Australia will not purchase Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, citing concerns that it is of the same type as the AstraZeneca vaccine which is no longer recommended for people under 50.
The decision further narrows the scope of possible vaccine candidates to be rolled out in Australia, where the government has purchased an additional 20m doses of Pfizer in a bid to ramp up a sluggish start to a program currently reliant on just two vaccines.
Australia has now abandoned official targets for the rollout, conceding that all Australians may not be vaccinated by year’s end.
On Tuesday a spokesman for the health minister, Greg Hunt, said the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine “is an adenovirus vaccine, the same type of vaccine as the AstraZeneca vaccine”.
“The government does not intend to purchase any further adenovirus vaccines at this time,” he told Guardian Australia.
Australia has purchased 53.8m doses of AstraZeneca, including 50m to be produced locally and 3.8m imports, as part of its vaccine arsenal totalling 170m doses.
Last Thursday, the Australian government slapped an advisory on the AstraZeneca vaccine, warning people under 50 it may cause extremely rare but potentially deadly blood clots.
There are similar concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with Europe’s drug regulator currently reviewing rare blood clots in four people in the United States who received the adenovirus vaccine.
One case involved a person in a clinical trial, while three occurred during the US rollout of the vaccine, resulting in one death. It is still unclear if the clots are connected to the vaccine or related to some other medical issue.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also has side effects that include swollen lymph nodes. The increased inflammation is a result of the creation of antibodies.
As a condition of sale, Johnson & Johnson has reportedly insisted on a no-fault compensation scheme, which the government has not committed to introduce.
A Janssen ANZ spokeswoman told the Sydney Morning Herald the company would not comment on contractual negotiations but it had taken a consistent approach to advance purchase agreements.
“The availability of our vaccine candidate is subject to successful development, regulatory approval as well as the existence of an efficient, effective no-fault compensation system and robust liability protection,” she reportedly said.
The shadow health minister, Mark Butler, said it was “simply not good enough” for the government to announce it will not purchase Johnson & Johnson through “the minister’s spokesperson without any background explanation”.
“We have been making the point now for some time Australia needs more vaccine options on the table,” Butler told ABC News Breakfast.
“Most other countries have been looking at five or six vaccines. The UK, for example, has seven deals.
“And so with this very important vaccine that’s rolling out through the US, will start to roll out through the United Kingdom very soon, if there is a decision not to go with it, what are the reasons for that?”
In addition to Pfizer and AstraZeneca, Australian health officials have said the approval process is well advanced for the Novavax vaccine, of which Australia has purchased 51m doses.
But due to supply delays and the impact of the warning on AstraZeneca, the centrepiece of Australia’s program, Scott Morrison late on Sunday admitted that all Australians may not be vaccinated by the year’s end.
The prime minister said in a statement uploaded to Facebook there would be no new timetable to replace the previous October target.
Butler said Australia is at a “critical juncture”. “We’ve got a vaccine rollout that’s run off the rails and the prime minister needs to come clean with Australians about what the new plan is, what the new timelines and targets are.”
Butler called on the government to explain why 2.3m doses had been cleared and batch-tested by the Therapeutic Goods Administration but “are not in people’s arms already”.