Italy hits pause on J&J coronavirus vaccine plans just ahead of rollout

Italy has paused its rollout plans for the U.S.-made Johnson & Johnson vaccine just before it was set to begin distribution of the one-dose jab, a government official said.

The news comes after the U.S. has suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while investigating into speculations that the jab may cause blood clots. Italy had been scheduled to start using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

Dozens of articles appeared in the Italian media in recent weeks about the impending arrival of the new vaccine, which has a big advantage over the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca already approved for use in Italy in that it is also easier to store and transport.

On Tuesday, however, reports began circulating saying the distribution plan would be temporarily halted following worries of blood clots in the United States. A government press official confirmed those reports to Xinhua.

According to a report in Corriere della Sera, 184,000 doses of the vaccine had already arrived in Italy and were being stored at the Pratica di Mare military base just south of Rome. Another report, from the TG24 news channel, said Johnson & Johnson vaccines that arrive in Italy will be stored correctly, to assure that they can be used safely once the prohibition is lifted.

On Monday, Italy announced it expected at least 2.2 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to arrive this week — the highest one-week total for vaccine arrivals since they first became available in December. But the problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will surely reduce that number.

Before this week’s developments, the U.S. pharmaceutical giant began supplying doses to European countries on Monday with the goal of delivering at least 55 million doses to European Union (EU) member states by June and another 120 million in the three months after that. There was no announced breakdown to indicate what percentage of the total deliveries were earmarked for Italy.

The disruption of the Johnson & Johnson rollout is the latest in a series of delays for Italy’s vaccine rollout.

Last month, the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was temporarily halted in Italy and around a dozen other EU member states amid similar concerns over blood clots that resulted in two deaths. In Italy, it was removed from distribution sites for four days before health officials deemed it safe.

On Wednesday, news sites predicted a similar outcome for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with several predicting the vaccine could be limited to use for those over the age of 60.

In a statement on Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson announced it would “proactively delay” its European rollout, as well as distribution in the U.S. and some other territories. In a statement, the company said the vaccine was safe, noting that data showed six cases of blood clots out of 6.8 million doses distributed so far. But the statement said the company agreed to pause distribution “out of an abundance of caution.” All six of the deaths in the U.S. were women under the age of 40.

The Johnson & Johnson statement concluded: “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.”

As of Wednesday, Italy had distributed at least one vaccine dose to 13.72 million residents, with more than 300,000 people receiving a dose over the previous 24 hours. The number of fully vaccinated individuals surpassed 4 million on Tuesday, reaching 4.09 million as of late Wednesday, or around 6.8 percent of the population.

Over the past 14 months, the pandemic has claimed more than 115,000 lives in Italy, with more than 3.8 million infections reported, making Italy one of the countries hardest hit by the virus.