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Johnson & Johnson stopped making its COVID-19 vaccine at a key facility in the Netherlands.
The Johnson & Johnson shot is seen as a critical vaccine for poorer countries. But late last year the company paused production at the only plant making usable batches of the vaccine, people familiar with the decision told The New York Times.
The plant, located in Leiden, has been making an experimental but potentially more profitable vaccine instead. The experimental vaccine is for an unrelated virus — respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV — that will be used for a clinical trial.
The pause is said to be temporary. The Leiden plant is expected to restart production of the COVID-19 vaccine next month. The company has said that it has millions of COVID-19 doses in inventory, though it’s unclear whether the pause has affected vaccine supplies.
The interruption could reduce the supply of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine by a few hundred million doses, one of the sources told the newspaper, since the doses made from renewed production won’t likely ship until May or June. Other facilities have been hired to produce the vaccine but aren’t running yet or haven’t received regulatory approval to ship doses for packaging.
Jake Sargent, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, told the Times that the company is “focused on ensuring our vaccine is available where people are in need” and that its global production network “is working day and night.” He said that the company has millions of doses in inventory and is continuing to deliver vaccine batches to facilities that package doses.
The pause has surprised officials at two main recipients of the Johnson & Johnson shots — the African Union and Covax, the organization that coordinates COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries. Leaders of the two organizations learned about the halt in production from reporters at The Times.
“This is not the time to be switching production lines of anything, when the lives of people across the developing world hang in the balance,” Ayoade Alakija, co-leader of the African Union’s vaccine delivery program, told the newspaper.
Poorer countries rely on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine because it doesn’t require ultracold refrigeration. The vaccine is also less expensive than others and easy to provide to hard-to-reach populations.
“In many low- and middle-income countries, our vaccine is the most important and sometimes only option,” Penny Heaton, MD, a Johnson & Johnson executive, said in December during a meeting with the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee.
“We have a global vaccine, and the world is depending on us,” she said.
Créditos: Comité científico Covid