Slovenia suspends use of J&J coronavirus vaccine

The suspension will be in place until all the circumstances of the woman’s death have been ascertained, according to Health Minister Janez Poklukar. [Sem Van Der Wal/EPA/EFE]

Slovenia on Wednesday suspended the use of the single-shot coronavirus vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson after a twenty-year-old woman died two weeks after receiving the shot.  This development risks undermining Slovenia’s already slow vaccine uptake fuelled by a potent anti-vaccination movement.

The suspension will be in place until all the circumstances of the woman’s death have been ascertained, according to Health Minister Janez Poklukar.

There is not currently any confirmation that the woman died as a direct result of the vaccine.

Unlike in several other countries where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (also known as the Janssen vaccine) is administered only to older patients, it was available in Slovenia to anyone over 18, except pregnant women.

Indeed, the vaccine surged in popularity recently after the government decided that those vaccinated qualify for the COVID pass, which is now mandatory for almost all services.

This provided the fastest way to get the coveted COVID pass. For all other vaccines, the COVID pass took effect after the second dose.

A total of 120,000 Slovenians have been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Wednesday, the government announced it was buying another 100,000 doses from Hungary to meet the high demand.

The Johnson & Johnson jab is one of two vector-based vaccines that has been used in Slovenia. Bojana Beović, the head of the vaccination advisory group, said it might make sense to consider no longer providing the AstraZeneca jab and focusing only on mRNA vaccines.

The death of the 20-year-old provided a strong boost to an already powerful anti-vaccine and anti-mask movement, which held its third consecutive weekly rally in the capital on Wednesday and featured a speech by the woman’s father.

Several thousand protesters including a diverse group of opponents of the COVID pass, vaccination and masks, plus outright COVID-19 deniers, caused chaos in the Slovenian capital during rush hour by blocking a major artery road and the Ljubljana ring road, one of the busiest roads in the country.

Chanting anti-government slogans, they clashed with police and a water cannon was deployed to disperse the crowd as police helicopters hovered overhead urging protesters to leave.

(Sebastijan R. Maček | STA)

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