Tuesday 13 April 2021 6:05 pm

Johnson & Johnson to delay rollout of Covid vaccine to Europe

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will “proactively delay” the rollout of its Covid vaccine in Europe after the US paused the jab this afternoon amid blood clot concerns.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it was aware of extremely rare blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of patients who received its coronavirus vaccine.

“We have made the decision to proactively delay the rollout of our vaccine in Europe,” the company said, adding that it was reviewing the cases with European health authorities.

The bloc has signed a deal for 200m doses of the US pharmaceutical firm’s single-shot vaccine.

The first deliveries of the jab, made by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, had been earmarked to arrive in Europe on 19 April.

The European Commission the move to delay deliveries of the jab was “completely unexpected”, adding that it was seeking clarification from Johnson & Johnson.

The decision will come as a major blow to the continent, which is currently grappling with a third wave of Covid infections as a result of its sluggish immunisation programme.

US pause

It comes after the US this afternoon announced it will temporarily pause the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s jab while regulators investigate possible blood clot links.

In a joint statement, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they were investigating clots in six women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts.

All six recipients are understood to be women between the ages of 18 and 48.

The US has already vaccinated more than 7m people with the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, indicating the rarity of developing the blood clot disorder.

President Joe Biden has ordered 200m doses of the single-shot vaccine in total, half of which have been delivered.

The US has already made huge strides with its vaccination programme, with around 36 per cent of the population having received a first dose so far.

However, questions over potential blood clot links with the Johnson & Johnson jab will be felt deeper within the EU, where just 16.8 per cent of the population has received their first dose of a Covid jab.

EU shortages

The bloc has been struggling with vaccine supply shortages over the past few months, sparking a furious spat that has entangled pharmaceutical firms and politicians alike.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Bokyo Borissov this morning added fuel to the fire after he suggested Pfizer had hiked the cost of future orders of its Covid vaccine to the EU by 60 per cent.

The EU has so far relied heavily on the Pfizer and Astrazeneca vaccines in its jab rollout to date, with limited supplies of the Moderna vaccine joining the roster.

However, distribution of the Astrazeneca jab across the EU has been hampered by erroneous reports of its inefficacy since its launch across the bloc earlier this year.

Concerns over potential blood clot links also enveloped the Anglo-Swedish firm last week, though the EU’s medicines regulator refused to apply limitations on the jab.

UK timeline

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is currently under review in the UK but has not yet been approved.

Ministers had been banking on the vaccine as a potential “jab and go” option for millennials, after Britain’s drugs regulator last week recommended that under-30s seek an alternative to the Astrazeneca vaccine.

The government has so far ordered 30m doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, which had been earmarked for a July launch date.

However, the latest developments across both the Atlantic and the Channel are likely to cast doubts over the proposed timeline for a UK rollout of the jab.