Health Canada holding off on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Health Canada is holding off on distributing the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after it became clear the doses that arrived on Wednesday were processed in the same U.S. plant that’s been mired in quality-control problems.

Reports first surfaced in the New York Times earlier this month about problems at a Baltimore, Md., plant run by Emergent BioSolutions, where both the AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were being manufactured.

Emergent announced earlier this month that 15 million doses of the latter had been ruined by cross-contamination — a development that prompted the White House to put Johnson & Johnson in charge of the facility.

Canada received 300,000 doses this week, Health Canada told CBC News.

Those shots will only be released for distribution once Health Canada ensures they’ve met its “high standards for quality, safety and efficacy,” the federal department said in a statement Friday evening.

Health Canada says it remains “confident” the 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine imported from the same facility meet quality specifications.

WATCH | U.S. pauses J&J vaccine over blood clot reports: 

The U.S. investigation of whether six cases of rare blood clots are linked to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may help give Canada modified guidance on the shot before it reaches Canada, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist in Toronto. 7:34

The department previously said the J&J doses Canada was expecting were not coming from the Baltimore plant.

“Canadians can be assured that Health Canada is taking all necessary steps to ensure that any products coming from this facility will only be used if they are safe and effective,” Health Canada said in a statement on Sunday.

Setback for vaccination efforts

Health Canada’s pause on the J&J shot is a setback for the country’s efforts to continue ramping up vaccinations amid a raging third wave of the pandemic. 

It also marks the latest hurdle for the single-dose vaccine, which has been long-awaited in hard-hit regions as a way to quickly immunize vulnerable populations

Health Canada approved the vaccine in March, and updated its labelling on Monday to acknowledge the risk of rare but serious blood clots.

The move followed a brief U.S. pause to investigate reports of clots, which have happened in 15 of the roughly 6.8 million Americans who got the shot, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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