Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine under review by EU regulator after blood clots

The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is approved in the EU, but its roll-out in the bloc isn't expected to start until later this month.
The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is approved in the EU, but its roll-out in the bloc isn't expected to start until later this month.PHOTO: AFP

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) - The European Union's drug regulator has started a review to assess blood clots in people who received Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine.

Four serious cases of unusual clots accompanied by low blood platelets, one of which was fatal, have emerged after immunisation with the J&J shot, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday (April 9).

The move turns the regulator's scrutiny onto a second Covid-19 shot, after AstraZeneca's vaccine was possibly linked to a rare blood-clotting disorder.

J&J is working with regulators to assess data on the rare clots, and "at present, no clear causal relationship has been established" with the vaccine, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

One of the cases following J&J vaccinations happened during a clinical trial. At the time, the company said it had found no evidence that the vaccine was at fault. Three others occurred in the US, where the shot has been given to almost five million people.

Though J&J's vaccine is approved in the EU, its roll-out in the bloc isn't expected to start until later this month. Still, the EU is relying on the one-shot vaccine to boost its immunisation drive amid restrictions in some countries on use of the AstraZeneca shot, which needs two doses.

Sputnik data

Separately, the EU regulator said it doesn't yet have enough evidence to approve the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Like the J&J and AstraZeneca shots, Sputnik uses an adenovirus - the cause of some common colds - to deliver the coronavirus antigen and generate an immune response.

Adenovirus technologies such as that used by AstraZeneca and others have been associated with clotting in other settings, so if this is the reason for the rare side effects observed with the AstraZeneca vaccine, shots from J&J, Sputnik and Chinese drugmaker CanSino Biologics would also be at risk, said Dr Sam Fazeli, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

The Food and Drug Administration didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clotting cases

The numbers of clot cases in people who took the J&J shot have been small so far compared to the total number of people getting the vaccine worldwide, Dr Peter Arlett, EMA's head of analytics, said on April 7. At that point, Dr Arlett said three clotting cases had been found, while some 4.5 million people had received the J&J shot.

"I think it would be fair to say there is intensive monitoring of this issue across the vaccines," Dr Arlett said.

The EMA will continue its rolling review of the Russian vaccine until it has enough evidence to support an application for marketing authorisation, the agency said on Friday.

The agency declined to comment on safety information for Sputnik before its assessment is complete.