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The Ramifications Of The Johnson & Johnson Vaccination Halt Are Global

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The decision by the federal government to halt the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine in the U.S. over a possible link to rare blood clots has had ramifications for other countries, too. Many of them, especially in Europe, were on the verge of starting vaccination campaigns with the J&J product. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Most of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that's been administered so far has been in the U.S. But globally, Johnson & Johnson has made commitments to provide nearly a billion doses abroad. Large orders have been placed by the African Union, Colombia and the Philippines, yet most of those doses haven't yet been delivered.

The pause in the U.S. led to the suspension of a rollout of the jab in Europe. South Africa also announced that it was halting the use of Johnson & Johnson. This comes after South Africa abandoned plans for a nationwide vaccination campaign with the AstraZeneca vaccine when it appeared that AstraZeneca wasn't effective against the dominant variant in the country. South Africa has so far immunized less than 1% of its population and is hoping to be able to resume inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson product soon. But if that doesn't happen, they're going to have to switch to a third vaccine, which they hope will be Pfizer.

Meanwhile, Spain says it still plans to start using Johnson & Johnson once it gets doses of the product early this summer, but it will only give them to people in their 70s. France says it will use a shipment that just arrived this week, but only in people 55 and older.

All of the reported blood clots for J&J and similar clots with AstraZeneca have been in people under the age of 50. Most of them have been women in their 20s and 30s. Rebecca Weintraub is a doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and she's working on research on global COVID vaccine delivery programs. Weintraub says the current pause on the Johnson & Johnson shot by the U.S. and other countries is appropriate and a normal part of rolling out a huge new vaccination program.

REBECCA WEINTRAUB: This is standard practice. We expected a set of adverse reactions to a vaccine that - not only because it was new, but this happens with any routine vaccination process.

BEAUBIEN: The World Health Organization says the current halt of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by the U.S. shows that the systems put in place to catch rare side effects and address them are working. The WHO notes that this is simply a pause while the reports of side effects are reviewed and that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still authorized for use, and they expect immunizations with it will resume soon. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN METCALFE'S "GOLD, GREEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.