Healthcare

COVID-19 vaccine production quietly suspended at Johnson & Johnson: report

Johnson & Johnson temporarily halted production of its COVID-19 vaccine in the Netherlands, the only manufacturing hub making usable doses for the pharmaceutical company, according to a New York Times report on Tuesday.

The company stopped production of the vaccine at its facility in the Dutch city of Leiden at the end of 2021 and has instead turned its attention to making another vaccine for an unrelated virus, the Times reported. The pause is temporary and is expected to last just a month — but it could reduce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine supply by a few hundred million doses.

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Janssen Pharmaceuticals has been linked to rare blood clots and is considered less effective than Pfizer’s and Moderna’s shots by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is extremely important in Africa and low-income countries, which rely on the simpler one-dose shot.

The vaccine also avoids the requirement of storage in ultra-cold temperatures, which makes shipment of Moderna and Pfizer doses more difficult.

In October, Johnson & Johnson said it was committing about 50 million vaccines to 40 countries through COVAX, the vaccine-sharing initiative from the World Health Organization and the United Nations.

But Ayoade Alakija, a co-head of the African Union’s vaccine-delivery program, told the Times that switching up production could endanger the vaccination effort.

“This is not the time to be switching production lines of anything, when the lives of people across the developing world hang in the balance,” she said.

A spokesperson for the company told The Hill that millions of doses were in inventory and they were still planning to “fulfill our contractual obligations” related to COVAX and the African Union.

“We strive to improve human health and have worked tirelessly to forge partnerships and build a global manufacturing network across four continents to produce our COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, we expanded the capacity of our facility in Leiden in 2021, and the site continues to play a role in our vaccine manufacturing in 2022,” the spokesperson said.

“Our manufacturing sites produce multiple products as we have an obligation to supply life changing medicines to patients around the world and bring forward our innovative pipeline of new medicines and vaccines. We manage our production planning accordingly and are currently supplying from our extensive global network based on the demand for our vaccine and the needs of our patients and customers,” the spokesperson added.

Millions of Americans have received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and the company earned $2.39 billion in vaccine sales in 2021. Johnson & Johnson is estimating even higher sales in 2022, ranging between $3 billion and $3.5 billion.

According to the report from the Times, Johnson & Johnson is planning to revive three other manufacturing plants to produce its COVID-19 vaccine, including a facility in Baltimore that was shut down in April following a failure to meet federal guidelines.

—Updated at 3:59 p.m.

Tags COVID-19 vaccine facility Janssen Pharmaceuticals Johnson and Johnson Leiden manufacturing Netherlands Vaccine production

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