First batch of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine arrives in Italy as rollout paused

First batch of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine arrives in Italy as rollout paused
Bottles of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: ROB ENGELAAR/ANP/AFP
The first shipment of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines arrived at a military air base near Rome on Tuesday afternoon - just as the company put the brakes on distribution of the jab amid concerns about possible rare side effects.

The first batch contains 184,000 doses, said Italy’s coronavirus emergency commissioner General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Figliuolo said they were “part of the 4.2 million doses that will arrive in Italy in the period from 15 to 22 April.”

However, the Johnson & Johnson doses will remain in storage in Italy pending an investigation of rare adverse side-effects reported in the US:

The Italian government is scrambling to speed up its vaccination programme, which has so far fallen short of targets after a series of setbacks.

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It had been widely hoped the new vaccine would help Italy get closer to its target of administering 500,000 shots a day by the end of April.

The new vaccine would have been the fourth in use in Italy after the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca versions and the only one so far requiring just a single dose.

The decision by Johnson & Johnson to delay use of its vaccine in Europe came as a further blow to the struggling Italian campaign.

“We have made the decision to proactively delay the rollout of our vaccine in Europe,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday.

Rare cases of blood clots combined with low platelet numbers in persons who have received the vaccine are the background for the decision, the company said.

READ ALSO: European countries face slower vaccination as Johnson & Johnson delays rollout

“We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public,” it added.

According to the company, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are reviewing data “involving six reported US cases out of more than 6.8 million doses administered”.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC and FDA have recommended a pause in the use of our vaccine” in the United States, it said.

Vaccination programmes in several European countries are expected to be hit by the delay.

Italy’s vaccination roll-out has suffered supply delays and logistical problems, including faulty booking systems that failed to notify some people of their appointments. 

Delays across the country have reportedly been aggravated by the Italian medicine agencies’ decision to halt injections of the AstraZeneca vaccine for several days in March amid concerns about potential rare side effects. 

IN CHARTS: Who is Italy vaccinating fastest?

AstraZeneca jabs resumed after EU regulators re-confirmed they were “safe and effective”, but some Italian regions have reported widespread cancellation of vaccine appointments among those due to get the jab.

The Italian government last week announced it would now prioritise over-75s for the jab, amid accusations it had been vaccinating the wrong groups and failing to protect the elderly.

According to the latest official data, Italy has fully vaccinated more than four million people so far.


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