Europe hit by doubts over J&J, AZ jabs

European countries are split on whether they will use Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.
European countries are split on whether they will use Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.

Europe's choppy vaccine rollout has hit more troubles after US drugmaker Johnson & Johnson delayed its COVID-19 shot and Denmark said it would drop AstraZeneca's jab over the risk of blood clotting.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it expected to issue a recommendation on Johnson & Johnson's vaccine next week but that it continued to believe the benefits of the shot outweighed the risks of side effects.

US federal health agencies recommended pausing the vaccine for at least a few days after six women under age 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot.

Deliveries had already begun in some European countries but authorities took differing approaches on whether to restrict use of the single-shot vaccine.

Belgium and France said they would go ahead, while Spain, Italy and Greece put them on hold.

The EMA said J&J was in contact with national authorities and recommended storing doses already received until the safety committee issued an expedited recommendation.

The delay came as a further blow to Europe's faltering vaccinations campaign, which has been hit by problems ranging from poor coordination between national and regional authorities to a damaging contractual row with AstraZeneca.

"Here we are in the hands of God: if it goes right it goes right, if it goes wrong it goes wrong. I don't know, I don't know what to say," said Rome resident Annamaria Gingaroli.

Scientific information and analytics company Airfinity said suspension of J&J's vaccine could delay efforts to vaccinate most people in the European Union by over two months to December.

Earlier this month, European regulators said they had found a possible link between AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine and a similar rare blood clotting problem to the one connected to the Johnson & Johnson shot.

The EMA has recommended AstraZeneca's vaccine be used, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.

But several EU countries have limited its use to certain age groups, and on Wednesday, Danish authorities said they were dropping the AstraZeneca vaccine altogether.

The British-Swedish drugmaker said it respected the Danish decision and said it was a matter for each country to decide on their vaccination programmes.

Although deliveries of the J&J shot had barely begun in Europe, questions about the two vaccines threaten to undermine public confidence in the low-cost shots which authorities had been counting on in the fight against a pandemic that has claimed more than 3 million lives.

An official from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) said it was "plainly obvious" the J&J cases were "very similar" to the AstraZeneca ones.

He said no similar blood clot cases had been reported among recipients of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech, vaccines, which use a different technology.

J&J has said it is working closely with regulators and noted no clear causal relationship had been established between the events and its shot.

Meanwhile, South Africa's decision to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to preliminary reports of rare blood clots has left the country without any shots as it struggles to combat an aggressive coronavirus variant.

Australian Associated Press