EMA official suggests ditching AstraZeneca jab

South Africa pulls two million doses of J&J vaccine

By: AFP      Published: 03:04 PM, 13 Jun, 2021
EMA official suggests ditching AstraZeneca jab
Representative image.

A top official in the European Medicines Agency said it might be worth abandoning AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine for all age groups where alternatives are available, in an interview published Sunday.

Marco Cavaleri, the EMA's head of vaccine strategy, also told Italy's La Stampa newspaper that the Johnson & Johnson jab should be preferentially used for the over 60s.

Both so-called viral vector vaccines are authorised for everyone over 18 but have been dogged by reports of rare blood clots. The EU has also authorised two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

Italy on Saturday restricted AstraZeneca vaccines to people aged 60 and over following concerns about the heightened health risks for younger people.

Asked if it would not be better to ban AstraZeneca including for the over 60s, Cavaleri said: "Yes, and it is an option that many countries, such as France and Germany, are considering in the light of the increased availability of mRNA vaccines.

"However, incidents were very rare and after the first dose. It is true that there is less data on the second dose, but in the United Kingdom it (the vaccination programme) is going well."

He added: "Among young people the risks of illness decrease, and the message for them could be to use preferentially the mRNA vaccines, but the choice is left to individual states."

He noted the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has "fewer problems than AstraZeneca" while noting it had been less widely used.

"With one dose it is useful for some categories that are difficult to reach, but it remains an adenovirus (vaccine) and it is preferable to reserve it for the over 60s," he said.

Messenger RNA genetic technology trains the body to reproduce spike proteins, similar to that found on the coronavirus. When exposed to the real virus later, the body recognises the spike proteins and is able to fight them off.

Viral vector vaccines like AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson use genetically-engineered version of a common-cold causing adenovirus as a "vector" to shuttle genetic instructions into human cells.

S.Africa pulls two million doses of J&J vaccine

South Africa, which is struggling to roll out its inoculation programme as it enters a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, said Sunday it will pull two million of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following contamination concerns at one of the US drugmaker's sites. 

On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration told J&J that millions of doses produced at the group's Emergent BioSolutions facility in the city of Baltimore were not suitable for use.

Following a review of the FDA decision, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said in a statement that it had decided "not to release vaccine produced using the drug substance batches that were not suitable".

J&J's Emergent plant was ordered to pause production in April several weeks after it was determined that batches of a substance used to produce the vaccine were cross-contaminated with ingredients from another jab made by Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca. 

J&J did not reveal the precise number of doses in each batch, but they are known to correspond to several million jabs.

The FDA is still deciding whether to allow the factory to reopen. 

Acknowledging the setback in South Africa's vaccination programme, Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said Saturday that the country had two batches -- representing some two million doses -- that were stored in a high-security laboratory in Port Elizabeth belonging to drugmaker Aspen. 

South Africa is one of the countries campaigning for a waiver of patents on Covid-19 vaccines in order to allow every nation to produce generic versions at low cost. 

"If we are to save lives and end the pandemic, we need to expand and diversify manufacturing and get medical products to treat, combat and prevent the pandemic to as many people as quickly as possible," President Cyril Ramaphosa told the G7 group of wealthy nations meeting in Britain on Sunday. 

South Africa is counting on a delivery of 31 million doses of the single-shot J&J vaccine to help inoculate its population of 59 million. 

- One percent vaccinated -

It has also secured 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but that jab must be stored at extremely low temperatures and requires two shots.

SAHPRA said that a new delivery of around 300,000 doses of the J&J jab "that have been cleared by the US FDA that meet the requirements and will subsequently be released and shipped to South Africa."

The government already temporarily suspended vaccinations in April after rare cases of blood clots were reported in the US.

And in February, South Africa turned down more than 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine because of doubts about its efficacy on the local coronavirus variant. 

Lagging behind many other countries, South Africa has only vaccinated just over one percent of its population. It is the African country hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 1.7 million infections and nearly 58,000 deaths. 

More than 9,300 new cases were registered in the past 24 hours.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.