European countries prepared on Wednesday (21 April) to start using Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and speed up their vaccination campaigns after Europe’s drug regulator backed the shot and deliveries started trickling in after a week-long pause.
Germany’s health ministry said it would start deliveries to federal states for use in vaccination centres shortly, and that family doctors should resume the use of the vaccine as of Wednesday, while France will receive the vaccine from week after next.
The Netherlands planned to start using it next week.
Just over 320,000 doses arrived in ten countries across the 30-member European Economic Area (EEA) as of Wednesday, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Poland and the Netherlands made up the bulk of the cargoes, with 117,600 and 79,200 doses, respectively.
That’s only a tiny portion of the 134 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines delivered since the rollout began almost four months ago and compared with the larger shipments from Pfizer -BioNTech over that time.
But the arrival of the fourth vaccine authorised for use in Europe offers hope as governments scramble to get shots in arms after a slow start plagued by production problems and safety scares. The region is also battling a spike in infections that have forced some countries to reimpose lockdowns.
J&J is due to deliver 55 million doses of its vaccine to the EU by the end of June.
The new arrivals come after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Tuesday that it found a possible link between J&J’s vaccine and rare blood clotting issues in adults who received doses in the United States, but it said that benefits of the one-dose shot outweigh its risks.
J&J said on Tuesday it would resume shipments following the news, but did not give any details on the timing.
It paused shipments last Tuesday, just days into the EU rollout after US and EU regulators launched a probe into rare brain blood clots, combined with a low blood platelet count, that were reported in six women who had received the shot.
Very few shots had been administered in the EU before the suspension of shipments.
While the EMA said it considers the vaccine safe, it has left it up to the European Union’s member states to decide how to use it, taking a similar stance to that with rival AstraZeneca’s shot.
Experts have cautioned that the scrutiny of the Astra and now the J&J shot may knock confidence in the vaccines even though the case of clotting are extremely rare.
Italy’s health ministry recommended the J&J vaccine be used for people over the age of 60.
In Germany, it was not immediately clear whether regulators would limit the use of J&J’s vaccine to a certain age group, as it had done with the vaccine by AstraZeneca, which its vaccine committee also recommends for ages 60 and over. The committee, known as STIKO, is due to meet on Thursday.
Denmark’s health authority expects to announce its decision next week on how to proceed, pending further investigations into the vaccine’s possible link to rare blood clots.
US regulators will decide later this week whether to restart use of the shot. Nearly 8 million people in the United States have received the J&J vaccine.
J&J has said it is working closely with regulators and noted that no clear causal relationship had been established between the clotting cases and its shot.