This week, Austria received its first delivery of the Johnson and Johnson’s ‘Janssen’ vaccine. The jab was set to become the fourth vaccine after Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna and AstraZeneca to be administered in Austria.
However, after reports of rare blood clots in the United States, the company decided to “proactively delay the rollout of the vaccine in Europe”.
With Austria having agreed to purchase millions of doses, what does this mean for the already lagging vaccine rollout?
Here’s what you need to know.
Why has the Johnson and Johnson jab been suspended?
Pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday delayed the rollout of its Covid-19 vaccine in Europe due to concerns over rare potential side effects detected in the United States.
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.
“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.
What does this mean for Austria?
Austria, which ordered 2.5 million doses of the vaccine for a population of 8.5 million, plans a strong reliance on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, particularly in GPs.
On Tuesday morning, the first delivery of around 16,800 doses of the vaccine arrived in Austria.
The doses were to be almost immediately distributed among family doctors in Vienna, with vaccinations to be carried out from April 19th.
Austrian health authorities on Tuesday however indicated that this would be temporarily suspended.
“Until there is clarity about any side effects, these doses will not be delivered to the vaccination centres and will not be administered,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health on Tuesday.
Will this lead to delays?
At this stage, it is difficult to say – primarily as there is no indication as to how long the delay will be.
As it stands, Austria has relied heavily on the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine – with this making up a third of total ordered doses
Although Austria has ordered 2.5 million doses, this represents just under ten percent of the total number of doses ordered (31.5 million).
One of the major reasons Austria ordered so many doses of vaccine compared to its population was just in case there were delays in the approval or in the production of some of the doses.
This includes 11.1 doses from Biontech/Pfizer, 5.9 million doses from AstraZeneca, 4.7 million doses from Moderna, 3 million from CureVac, 1.9 million from Novavax, 1.2 million from Valneva and 0.2 million from Sanofi.
Austria is also in the final steps of a deal to purchase one million doses of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, with some media reports indicating the deal has already been done.
That is not to say however that the delay will not have an impact.
The Janssen vaccine was seen as particularly useful in the context of GP vaccinations as it does not need to be stored at super cold temperatures and requires only one dose per patient.
Also, while vaccines from other manufacturers require two doses, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine only requires one.
This means that while the number of doses is less than ten percent of those ordered, if all were delivered it would have the potential to vaccinate almost a third of the entire Austrian population.
Therefore, if the delay continues long-term, it will have the potential to scupper Austria’s vaccination plans – particularly among family doctors.
However, as was illustrated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Austria has been willing to continue to vaccinate even when blood clot concerns have led to other countries suspending doses.