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Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Photo credit: Mika Baumeister

Norway sends ditched Johnson & Johnson vaccines to South Africa

An expert panel in Norway had recommended that the country drop vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson as well as AstraZeneca from its anti-Covid-19 campaign due to the risk of blood clots. Despite the risk, the Janssen product will be made available in South Africa, according to Camilla Stoltenberg, the director of Norway's National Institute of Public Health.

Published: July 1, 2021, 2:14 pm

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    Norway will finance the local production of 400 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses in South Africa, with Norfund, the Norwegian state’s investment fund for developing countries, investing a total of $7,5 million in the project.

    And Norway is not doing it for any health benefits either: “We are an investor, not an aid organisation. This is a loan, not a gift. But here we expect a relatively low return,” Norfund director Tellef Thorleifsson told national broadcaster NRK. He cannot promise that all the vaccines will be free for African consumers, but says that “that is what is being planned”.

    Africa’s current vaccination rate is less than 2 percent of the total population. He hopes to increase the vaccination rate in the next year.

    The South African holding company Aspen Pharmacare will produce the vaccine under license from Johnson & Johnson. The Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing plant is in the eastern city of Gqeberha, which until March this year was known as Port Elizabeth.

    “Production started already in April, and in the course of 12 months, 300 million doses will be made, and over a year and a half fully 400 million,” Thorleifsson explained. Of these, South Africa has pre-ordered 60 million doses while the African Union ordered 220 million to cover some 30 percent of Africa’s population.

    The risky single-dose Janssen vaccine has the advantage of being easier to store, enabling better distribution, since it does not need to be ultra-cooled, which is difficult in African climatic conditions, according to Stoltenberg. But in the EU, the contracts with AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson jabs will not be extended when they expire, an anonymous source in the Italian Ministry of Health told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

    There is an agreement between the EU Commission and many EU countries to eventually drop vaccines based on so-called virus vector technology.

    Several African countries have received vaccines that they did not manage to distribute before they expired. South Sudan, for example, received 132 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the international Covax program for poor countries in March. Some 72 000 of these were returned because the authorities did not have the capacity to use the vaccines in time.

    South Africa offered its stock of AstraZeneca to the African Union in February this year after it paused its rollout because trial data showed it offered minimal protection against the “variant of the virus that emerged in the country last year”.

    At the time, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament in Cape Town that rumours that the doses, which were purchased from the Serum Institute of India (SII), had expired and were being returned to India were “simply not true”. At the same time, the health minister announced that the country had instead secured 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

    In June, however, South Africa had to discard at least 2 million Johnson & Johnson shots produced in the country after they were found by the US Food and Drug Administration to be “contaminated at a Baltimore plant”.

    South Africa has also purchased and is expecting delivery of 30 million doses of the Pfizer product. Mostly whites have paid for and received the jab so far due to targeted propaganda telling them that it is the only way to “halt” the pandemic.

    In Norway, the panel of health experts, commissioned by the Norwegian government, stopped the Johnson & Johnson roll-out after the use of the AstraZeneca jab was first declared risky. The recommendations of the panel were adopted alongside advice from the Institute of Public Health, which also called for both injections to be dropped from the programme.

    Explaining its recommendations, the panel said eight Norwegian cases of severe clotting had been linked to AstraZeneca and four of those recipients had died. They cited the same adverse reactions for advising against the use of the J&J shot. “Great emphasis must be placed on maintaining confidence in the national vaccination scheme so that immunity can be established in the population in multiple potential rounds of vaccination in the coming years,” the panel declared.

    Norway was not the only country which stopped the use of both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. France, Germany, the UK and Canada have also restricted use of the shots. Denmark has stopped using both products completely despite rising Covid-19 infections.

    In the US, several states stopped the use of these two vector products too: New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia, Missouri, Georgia, Michigan and Ohio said they would follow a recommendation by the Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration to pause Johnson & Johnson’s distribution after reports of blood clotting.

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