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VACCINE

Johnson & Johnson halts delivery of 300,000 vaccine doses to Spain

Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson is to delay the rollout of its Janssen Covid-19 vaccine in Europe, including in Spain, due to concerns over rare potential side effects detected in the United States.

Johnson & Johnson halts delivery of 300,000 vaccine doses to Spain
Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

The company confirmed the decision in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

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

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

“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 could be impacted by the decision to delay rollout of the vaccine, which is also known as the Janssen vaccine after the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary which developed it.

Faced with yet another setback relating to the delivery of vaccines, Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias didn’t clarify on Tuesday how her government would adapt its vaccination strategy.

But the aim of inoculating 33 million people by the end of August – the government’s target from early on to achieve 70 percent immunity among Spain’s population as soon as possible – is now looking less likely. 

A total of 5.5 million Janssen doses were scheduled for delivery in Spain over the next three months, increasing to 17 million doses over the course of 2021. 

READ MORE:

France was also scheduled to receive its first 200,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine this week. The vaccine has already been authorised for use on all age groups by French medical regulator Haute autorité de santé.

France’s rollout had been planned primarily through family doctors and pharmacies, while mass vaccination centres continue to rely more heavily on Pfizer and Moderna.

Nordic countries Sweden, Denmark and Norway were also due to receive their first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week, while the first delivery was received in Austria on Tuesday morning. 

Sweden will decide how to use the vaccine within the coming days, the country’s health agency Folkhälsomyndigheten said earlier on Tuesday.

“We are looking at the issue and the data available from the European Medicines Agency and our American colleagues,” Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at a briefing, adding a decision would be announced “within one or a few days.”

Each of the Nordic countries has factored large-scale deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine into their vaccination calendars.

Sweden expected to receive 67,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine in April, a reduction on the 229,000 doses previously expected. Another 295,000 doses were set to arrive in May, and another 888,000 by the end of June.

Denmark has ordered more vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson than from any other supplier, having earmarked 8.2 million doses. Those doses were scheduled to begin arriving from Wednesday.

“It is very important for us… before we initiate use in Denmark, to ascertain whether we, for example, need further documentation and scientific research, whether there should be certain provisions for use, whether it should be used (only) for certain target groups,” the director of the Danish Health Authority (Sundhedsstyrelsen) Søren Brostrøm told news wire Ritzau in a written comment.

Norway’s programme for vaccinating its population faces a setback of delays of up to 8-12 weeks if the country does not use the Janssen vaccine and also chooses not to reimplement the AstraZeneca vaccine, which remains suspended in the country, also due to concerns over side effects.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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