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First batch of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine arrives in Italy as rollout paused

The first shipment of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines arrived at a military air base near Rome on Tuesday afternoon - just as the company put the brakes on distribution of the jab amid concerns about possible rare side effects.

First batch of Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine arrives in Italy as rollout paused
Bottles of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine. Photo: ROB ENGELAAR/ANP/AFP

The first batch contains 184,000 doses, said Italy’s coronavirus emergency commissioner General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo.

Figliuolo said they were “part of the 4.2 million doses that will arrive in Italy in the period from 15 to 22 April.”

However, the Johnson & Johnson doses will remain in storage in Italy pending an investigation of rare adverse side-effects reported in the US:

The Italian government is scrambling to speed up its vaccination programme, which has so far fallen short of targets after a series of setbacks.

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It had been widely hoped the new vaccine would help Italy get closer to its target of administering 500,000 shots a day by the end of April.

The new vaccine would have been the fourth in use in Italy after the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca versions and the only one so far requiring just a single dose.

The decision by Johnson & Johnson to delay use of its vaccine in Europe came as a further blow to the struggling Italian campaign.

“We have made the decision to proactively delay the rollout of our vaccine in Europe,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday.

Rare cases of blood clots combined with low platelet numbers in persons who have received the vaccine are the background for the decision, the company said.

READ ALSO: European countries face slower vaccination as Johnson & Johnson delays rollout

“We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public,” it added.

According to the company, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are reviewing data “involving six reported US cases out of more than 6.8 million doses administered”.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC and FDA have recommended a pause in the use of our vaccine” in the United States, it said.

Vaccination programmes in several European countries are expected to be hit by the delay.

Italy’s vaccination roll-out has suffered supply delays and logistical problems, including faulty booking systems that failed to notify some people of their appointments. 

Delays across the country have reportedly been aggravated by the Italian medicine agencies’ decision to halt injections of the AstraZeneca vaccine for several days in March amid concerns about potential rare side effects. 

IN CHARTS: Who is Italy vaccinating fastest?

AstraZeneca jabs resumed after EU regulators re-confirmed they were “safe and effective”, but some Italian regions have reported widespread cancellation of vaccine appointments among those due to get the jab.

The Italian government last week announced it would now prioritise over-75s for the jab, amid accusations it had been vaccinating the wrong groups and failing to protect the elderly.

According to the latest official data, Italy has fully vaccinated more than four million people so far.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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