Emergent BioSolutions disposed of 15 million doses of J&J vaccine in March
  • Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses are on hold in Europe, Africa, and Canada, the New York Times reported.
  • The doses were produced in an American plant around the time some batches were contaminated.
  • Emergent BioSolutions had to discard 15 million J&J doses in March after the incident.
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Millions of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are sitting unused across three continents as national regulators assess their safety, The New York Times has reported – including in South Africa.

Health officials across Europe, Africa and in Canada are reviewing batches of the J&J vaccine manufactured at an American plant after some were found in March to be contaminated by portions of a harmless version of the virus that is used to make the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is also manufactured at the plant.

Emergent BioSolutions, the biopharma company running the facility, had to dispose of up to 15 million doses after the incident.

An estimated six to nine million doses are on hold worldwide because they were manufactured during the time of the original contamination in February, according to the NYT.

Regulators in the EU, Canada and South Africa have said there was no evidence to show the doses they received were contaminated, but they required further testing. Some doses from a batch produced at the site are being used in Europe.

The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved doses produced at Emergent's plant for use in the US, and did not say whether it had helped ship doses to other countries when asked by the NYT.

"In general, individual importing countries determine if a product meets that country's standards for importation," an FDA spokeswoman said in a statement to the NYT.

The pause threatens to slow down the vaccination programs of countries relying on the J&J vaccine – such as South Africa – which stopped using AstraZeneca's vaccine in February after a study suggested it offered "minimal protection" against a Covid-19 variant spreading through the country.

South Africa has one of the lowest vaccination rates of any country, while Europe and Canada also use vaccines by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech to make up for a shortfall of J&J shots.

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