Johnson & Johnson reportedly shut down the only plant making usable batches of its COVID-19 vaccine even though many poor and developing nations are relying on the shots to immunize their populations.
The factory in the Dutch city of Leiden has shifted toward the production of more profitable vaccines that target another respiratory disease, according to the New York Times.
COVID-19 operations at the plant could resume next month and there are millions of J&J doses stockpiled. The freeze, according to the newspaper, could reduce the overall potential supply of the vaccine by a few hundred million doses — even as the African Union and Covax, a vaccine-sharing alliance, rely on the company for reaching its immunization goals in developing nations.
The one-shot J&J vaccine fell out of favor in the U.S. because of its link to an extremely rare but potentially deadly blood-clotting disorder and signs it did not have the same efficacy as two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that use different technology.
Many poor countries are reliant on J&J‘s vaccine because it does not require complicated cold-chain storage at deep-freezing temperatures and it can protect against severe disease, even if it doesn’t perform as well against overall infection. A recent study found an initial shot with a J&J booster was 85% effective against hospitalization.
J&J told the newspaper that it had millions of finished batches in its inventory and was “working day and night” to fight the pandemic.
The company continues to meet its obligations to the African Union but it hasn’t delivered as many doses as planned to Covax, forcing the global vaccine-sharing operation to look to other providers, according to the report.
The African Union, however, seemed caught off guard by the pause.
“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,” Dr. Ayoade Alakija, a co-head of the African Union’s vaccine-delivery program, told the newspaper.
J&J became reliant on the Leiden plant after problems at a Baltimore facility, where ingredients were conflated with ones for a rival vaccine from AstraZeneca, meaning batches couldn’t be cleared for use.
A partnership with a Merck plant in North Carolina has also faced delays and might not churn out doses until spring.
Health, The New York Today