Picture: 123RF/MILKOS
Picture: 123RF/MILKOS

Those responsible for keeping an eye on vaccines have urged the public to stick to three basic rules: report any concerning effects, let the experts figure out if the vaccine caused them, and don’t spread false information about the vaccines.

Mafora Matlala, manager of pharmacovigilance at the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), told a webinar hosted by the organisation that it is important to understand the difference between “an adverse event” and “an adverse drug reaction”.

While the former is a “broad descriptive term” for something that may have nothing to do with causation, the latter refers to a “noxious and unintended response” to the vaccine itself.

Matlala encouraged South Africans to use the Med Safety app, e-reporting, the Covid-19 hotline or paper-based reporting at a health facility if they want to report concerning effects.

She said the organisation wanted to “ensure that everyone in SA would have the opportunity to report it from the comfort of their own homes” as “monitoring vaccines is critical”.

Prof Hannelie Meyer, chair of the national immunisation safety expert committee, said: “It is human nature to blame something that happens later on a single event that happened before, but that does not mean the relationship is causal and one needs to remember that.”

This line of thinking is known as a logical fallacy (an error in reasoning) and can be “based on superstitions from the olden days” when people lacked the knowledge base to understand that something might have a temporal association (happening around the same time) but one thing did not cause the other.

She said an anecdote to illustrate this is a person who went for their Covid-19 jab and then had blurry vision on the way home. They immediately contacted the vaccine site to let them know and were told to return to the facility immediately. On arrival, they were handed back their glasses which they’d left at the site. Fake information that can spread from events such as that is that the vaccine “causes loss of or impairment of vision”. 

“Just because something follows immunisation does not mean it was caused by immunisation,” said Meyer, adding that the golden rule is to report anything of concern.

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