Spain will use Janssen Covid-19 vaccine for the 70-79 age group

Five million doses of the one-shot treatment are expected to arrive before the start of summer

Janssen vials are expected to start arriving in Spain by April 15.
Janssen vials are expected to start arriving in Spain by April 15.AFP

Spain will be receiving its first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines “first thing on Wednesday,” Health Minister Carolina Darias announced today. The government is expecting to get 300,000 doses of the one-shot treatment, making it the equivalent of twice as many doses of the other Covid-19 vaccines currently used in Spain: Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca. Darias also stated on Monday that the first group in line for the vaccine will be people between 70 and 79 years of age.

According to the latest Health Ministry report, 13.3% of the population in the 70-to-79 age bracket has had at least one dose of the three vaccines now being used in Spain. But changing criteria over the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have created a paradoxical situation. The rate of vaccination in the 60-69 age group is greater than the 70-to-79 group (22.3%), even though the coronavirus has a more serious effect in older people. This is because the 65-to-79 age range has been left in no-man’s land for weeks in Spain: the over-80s were the priority group for the Pfizer vaccine (91.4% have got at least one shot) while the under-65s were receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The latest update of the government’s vaccination plan, on March 30, specified that the Janssen vaccine would also be administered according to age, starting with the older age groups and working down. With more than nine in every 10 over-80s having had their first shot, Janssen will be administered to the next group, the 70-to-79s.

Blood clot reports

The Janssen vaccine uses similar technology as AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik vaccine. It is considered highly effective, even against the new coronavirus variants.

But on Friday of last week the European Union’s medical regulatory body, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), announced it was reviewing reports of blood clots in people who received the Janssen vaccine. The EMA said it knew of four cases of thromboembolic events, representing one in every 3.5 million people who received the vaccine.

The move mirrors a recent EMA review of similar cases tied to the AstraZeneca vaccine that led to a temporary halt in its use across Europe. The agency now says that “unusual blood clots with low blood platelets” should be listed as very rare side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The scare appears to have undermined citizen confidence in this treatment, with Spain’s Madrid region reporting a significant increase in missed appointments in the capital last Thursday.

Asked on Monday whether the under-60s who have already had their first dose of AstraZeneca will be given the second, in light of the fact that this group is no longer eligible for this vaccine in Spain, the health minister said that “all possible scenarios” were being explored, and that a decision would be made based on “the scientific evidence.”

“Stay calm, there’s still time,” she added. The two doses of AstraZeneca are administered 12 weeks apart, and the ministry is considering three possibilities: administering a different vaccine brand, using AstraZeneca, or skipping the second injection altogether.

Up to 42 million doses

So far Janssen has only been administered in the United States. Its use in the European Union was authorized on March 11, and the rollout is expected to begin in the coming weeks. Initial testing began last summer in the US and Belgium with a reduced group of volunteers, and a large-scale trial was launched in September on three continents. Spain contributed to the testing with 2,000 volunteers who were vaccinated at eight hospitals.

Unlike other vaccines, this one is being tested on a significant number of people over the age of 65, and several hundred minors between the ages of 12 and 17 have also been included. A January study found that the vaccine was 66.9% effective at preventing Covid-19 and 85% effective at preventing serious cases of the virus.

Spain is expecting to receive up to five million doses of the vaccine in the second quarter of the year. Janssen and the European Commission have agreed on a purchase of 200 million doses with an option to buy 200 million more. The share for Spain is 10.47%, meaning the total could reach 42 million doses. The Spanish government is hoping to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by September.

English version by Susana Urra. and Simon Hunter

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