South Africa and America have eased requirements for use of the world’s most widely used tetanus vaccine, under pressure from several countries that rely on imported supplies to meet annual supplies of the shot.
The immunisation of 10,000 pupils in five schools in Pretoria has been suspended after a 10-year-old girl collapsed while inoculated at a school in the capital on Monday.
Malcolm Brewer, the deputy minister of health, said a vaccine passport would soon be introduced to provide access to the correct vaccine in case any were imported.
The ministerial spokesman, Michael Taylor, said in a statement: “This is an operational decision that was based on a five-fold increase in the amount of tetanus vaccines required for use in South Africa this year, which has led to a continuing delay of the supply of vaccine to some countries around the world.”
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Africa relies heavily on imported stocks of vaccine, with its vaccine barriers being supported by tough import quotas. South Africa’s sales of the vaccine increased more than nine-fold between 2006 and 2012, from 1.7m to 8.5m, the government says.
Tetanus is known as the “cow pox of the land” because it spreads easily through the bites of rats. Human tetanus is more dangerous because it spreads in blood and tissue. It causes swelling to the elbow, leg or chest, which in some cases can damage the spleen or heart.
Tetanus was eliminated in Britain in 1900 but remained endemic there for a century until 1905. It can be eliminated in countries with a high vaccination rate.
Human tetanus is rare outside Africa, especially in dense populations, where city-dwellers are more likely to contract it than in rural areas. But outbreaks, especially in developing countries, have been reported in Pakistan, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania, Romania, South Africa and Nicaragua.