Belgium stops giving Johnson & Johnson vaccine to under-41s

Belgium stops giving Johnson & Johnson vaccine to under-41s
Credit: Belga/Dirk Waem

Belgium will stop administering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to people younger than 41 years old, following the death of a woman who was vaccinated with the jab, the health ministers announced on Wednesday.

Last week, the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP) was notified of a vaccinated patient admitted to hospital with severe thrombosis and reduced platelets. On Friday 21 May, she died.

The woman was under 40 years old, and was vaccinated via her (foreign) employer, meaning not as part of the Belgian campaign, according to the Vaccination Taskforce.

However, following the rare case, Belgium's different health ministers decided to stop administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine - which only requires one shot for full protection - to under-41s, and immediately requested an additional opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

"People who have already been invited for this vaccine and are younger [than 41] will be offered another vaccine," tweeted Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke after the decision was announced.

The incident could have a major impact on the timing of Belgium's vaccination campaign, as everyone up to 40 years old can now only be vaccinated with two doses, which could result in delays.

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The vaccine will continue to be used for the home vaccination of the elderly, and those in precarious situations such as the homeless, which is an important priority in the campaign.

On Tuesday, Beke already stated in the Flemish parliament that the aim of giving every adult their first dose by 11 July could be in jeopardy.

“If we cannot count on those vaccines, we will only achieve 85% vaccination coverage by 11 July,” he said.

On 20 April, the EMA’s safety committee (PRAC) already announced that a "possible link" between rare blood clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found.

While it stated that the blood clots should be listed as “very rare side effects” of the vaccine, the Agency confirmed that the overall benefit-risk analysis remained positive, and did not recommend an age limit.

Now, Belgium's health ministers asked the EMA to carry out a new benefit-risk analysis for the vaccine, in function of age.

Update: This article has been updated to include a comment by Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke regarding people under 41 who already received an invitation to be vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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