Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is in limbo with no additional Canadian shipments planned

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is in limbo with no additional Canadian shipments planned-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Boxes of the COVID-19 vaccine from the U.S. pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson developed with Janssen are pictured at a central vaccine warehouse in Germany. The vaccine only requires one dose and has been used in the U.S., but not yet in Canada. (Ronny Hartmann/dpa/The Associated Press)

The one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, was heralded as an easy way to fully vaccinate Canadians. But after some problems at a U.S. manufacturing plant and cratering domestic demand for the product, there are now no plans to ship this vaccine to Canada.

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A government official, speaking on background to CBC News, said Canada has ordered 10 million doses of this product but “at this time, there are no additional shipments confirmed.”

Joelle Paquette, the director general responsible for vaccine procurement at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said earlier this month that Johnson & Johnson would deliver some of its shots by the end of June.

With just one day left in the month, that shipment is now no longer expected. There’s no word on when more doses could arrive, either.

“There is no update from our end,” the government official said when asked about possible deliveries.

No timeline for future deliveries

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said the company “anticipates fulfilling the 10 million doses included in the Advance Purchase Agreement with the Government of Canada,” but offered no timeline for those deliveries.

Speaking at a COVID-19 briefing for journalists today, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the Johnson & Johnson contract remains in place and Canada could draw on supplies from this company at a later date.

But with millions more mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna set to arrive in the coming weeks, shipments from J&J may not be necessary, Anand said.

The minister said there’s no strong indication from the provinces and territories that they even want this one-dose vaccine for their immunization campaigns.

“At the current time, there are discussions ongoing with the provinces regarding their desire to receive the vaccine. There’s an assessment of demand occurring and there’s a conversation between the federal government and the provinces on that point,” she said.

“Decisions are still being made. The contract could yield vaccines for Canadians if the demand is there.”

Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said there’s “not really a strong demand signal, at all, from the provinces” for this product.

“If we do receive a signal from the provinces indicating demand, then we certainly have the mechanisms to bring that vaccine in,” Brodie said.

“We are focused on the mRNA vaccines that are really in demand.”

By the end of this week, Brodie said, Canada will have received some 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with 9.1 million more Pfizer shots set to arrive in July and millions more Moderna doses expected to follow. By the end of July, Canada is expected to have enough vaccine doses on hand to fully vaccinate 90 per cent of the population — an milestone likely to be achieved without any J&J shots.

Some 300,000 J&J doses were shipped here in late April. Health Canada rejected them after a weeks-long investigation because of ongoing concerns about the third-party manufacturer of these shots, a Maryland-based company called Emergent.

Workers at the company’s Baltimore plant inadvertently ruined some 15 million doses of this vaccine by mixing up ingredients intended for another product — the shot made by AstraZeneca.

The mix-up prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to temporarily halt all production at the Emergent plant. The company’s CEO has said that, as a result, more than 100 million doses of J&J’s vaccine were put on hold as regulators check them for possible contamination.

The U.S. also briefly stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson product over concerns about a rare but serious side effect called vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) — blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets following immunization. A similar condition has been reported in a small number of patients after receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The U.S. lifted its 11-day pause in April after officials decided the shot’s benefits outweighed the risks.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has said that the viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is less “preferable” than the mRNA products from Pfizer and Moderna.

But some experts have suggested this one-shot vaccine could be helpful in vaccinating more vulnerable groups who may be less likely to return for a second shot.

While COVID-19 cases have declined dramatically in Canada, there has been a series of outbreaks in congregate living settings like homeless shelters and provincial jails where the more contagious Delta variant, first identified in India, has infected hundreds.

Some people are also allergic to the components of the mRNA vaccines and there have been some cases of anaphylaxis reported in people with a histories of allergies. With J&J off the table for now, those Canadians will have to opt for a dose of AstraZeneca.

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