Japan probes deaths of two people jabbed with suspended Moderna doses


Covid-19 vaccines updates

Japan’s health ministry is investigating the deaths of two men in their 30s after they received Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines that were among supplies that were later suspended due to risk of contamination.

According to the ministry’s statement over the weekend, the two individuals, who did not have any underlying conditions, died within three days of receiving their second Moderna shots earlier this month.

There was no evidence that the deaths were caused by the vaccines but the ministry said it decided to disclose the cases to enhance transparency.

“We are still investigating the cause but we need to take preventative measures and we hope to disclose the information to the public as soon as we find out,” Norihisa Tamura, the health minister, said during a TV programme on Sunday.

Last week, Japan decided to withhold 1.63m doses of Moderna’s Covid vaccine following reports from several vaccination centres that the vaccine vials contained foreign matter.

Officials have said they have not identified any safety or efficacy issues, while Moderna has said the suspension was decided “out of an abundance of caution”.

Three manufacturing lots were suspended, including one that contained contaminants and two other adjacent lots that were produced at the same place during the same period. The two men received their second jabs from an adjacent lot.

In a joint statement, Moderna and its Japanese distribution partner Takeda Pharmaceutical said they took the deaths seriously. “At this time, we do not have any evidence that these deaths are caused by the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, and it is important to conduct a formal investigation to determine whether there is any connection,” they said.

Rovi, the Spanish pharmaceutical company that works with Moderna to manufacture the Covid vaccine at a plant near Madrid, has said the suspected contamination may have resulted from a “manufacturing incident” in one of its production lines. It added that the contamination affects certain vials of one product lot distributed exclusively in Japan.

State broadcaster NHK recently said the source of contamination could be a metallic particle, citing unofficial reports from Japanese health ministry officials. But Moderna and Takeda said such reports were inconclusive: “It is important to rely on a formal investigation before determining the precise nature of the particle,” they said.

Separately over the weekend, Japanese media reported that a vaccination centre in the southern island of Okinawa also discovered doses of Moderna vaccine containing foreign material, which were not part of the three suspended lots. Officials at Okinawa prefectural government were not immediately available for comment.

The contamination incident has come at a time when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has promised to ramp up the country’s vaccination programme to stem a record rise in coronavirus cases.

Despite a slow start, Japan has now administered 124m doses of the Covid vaccines, with about 43 per cent of the population fully inoculated.

According to the health ministry, 1,002 people died after receiving Covid vaccines as of August 8, including 11 following Moderna jabs, but the causation is not clear.