ROME (Reuters) – Italy said on Wednesday it had suspended the use of some 184,000 shots of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, after the brand delayed its introduction in Europe following a health scare in the United States.
The first shipment of vaccines from the U.S. company reached Italy on Tuesday, but for now it will not be distributed to regional centres, the office of the country’s COVID special commissioner said.
National authorities around Europe have taken differing approaches after U.S. health agencies recommended pausing the use of the vaccine after rare blood-clotting issues were reported. Greece decided to put its use on hold, while Belgium and France said they would go ahead with it.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it expects to issue a recommendation on J&J next week. Italian regulators have already said they could limit its use to people over the age of 60.
The single-shot J&J vaccine was considered crucial to speed up Italy’s vaccination campaign, which has suffered supply delays and was already slowed by blood-clotting concerns linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine was suspended for three days in Italy in mid-March and is now recommended only for people aged over 60.
“Possible age restrictions on J&J’s vaccine could have the same disruptive effect they had in the AstraZeneca case,” said Alessio D’Amato, the health chief of the Lazio region around Rome. “There is a risk of seriously damaging the vaccination campaign.”
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; editing by Gavin Jones, Larry King)