Janssen vaccine gets green light in Europe

Vaccine fourth to be approved in EU and only one requiring single dose

2 min
Rendering of a Johnson and Johnson vaccine vial

BrusselsThe fourth coronavirus vaccine has arrived in Europe. This Thursday the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson's European subsidiary Janssen. This vaccine is an important step for the European Union's vaccination strategy because it only requires a single dose and does not need special refrigeration, thus allowing the pace of immunisation to be accelerated once it starts to be distributed. This authorisation also has a particular implication for Catalonia, because Janssen has an agreement with Reig Jofre to mass produce and package the vaccine at the new plant in Sant Joan Despí. It only needs the approval of the European Commission, which is expected to arrive this afternoon, so that it can begin to be distributed.

The Janssen vaccine thus joins added the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZenca vaccines, which are already being distributed and administered, but not without several delivery problems. Brussels has secured 400 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, of which 55 million were due to arrive in the second quarter of the year. Even so, according to Reuters, the American pharmaceutical company has also notified the European Commission that it will have problems to achieve this commitment. In the United States, the vaccine has been authorised since 24 February.

The European Medicines Agency gives Johnson & Johnson's vaccine an efficacy of 67%, slightly higher than AstraZeneca's vaccine, which is 60% effective. The efficacy attributed to Moderna (90%) and Pfizer/BioNtech (85%) is much higher. The clinical trials that determine this efficacy have been carried out in the United States, South Africa and several Latin American countries and in a total of 44,000 people. As for side effects, the EMA assures that they have been mild or moderate and that they disappear two days after receiving the vaccine. The most common are pain at the site of administration, headache, tiredness, muscle aches and nausea.

Export controls dragging on

The European Union is having trouble speeding up a vaccination campaign that is being challenged both externally (the UK, the US and Israel are moving much faster) and internally, with some governments complaining that they need it to move faster. This week there has been repeated discomfort with Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca. Commission chairwoman Ursula von der Leyen sent a strong message to the company, which has only delivered up to 10% of the agreed doses. She said: "You will not export until you fulfil the contract"

That is why, this Thursday, the European Commission announced (as expected) that it is extending until the end of July the mechanism it put in place to control and block exports of vaccines. In fact, figures revealed this week by the Commission itself show that Europe is exporting millions of vaccines even though it is having trouble meeting its own vaccination targets. As many as 34 million doses have been approved for export to 31 different countries since February, according to a spokesperson for the executive, and only once have they been blocked, in Italy to prevent a shipment to Australia.

So far, according to European Commission figures, 43.1 million doses have been administered in the EU out of 60.7 million doses delivered. According to Bloomberg, 6.7% of the European population has been vaccinated with a single dose, compared with 18.8% in the United States. The EU's target is to have vaccinated 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer.