THE HAGUE - Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the Netherlands will begin using the one-shot Janssen vaccine against Covid-19 beginning on Wednesday. He said that the he expects everyone over 60 and all those in vulnerable health, including 16 and 17 year olds, to have had a first Covid-19 vaccine shot by the end of the first week of May.
The first injections of the Janssen vaccine will take place at hospitals, and at mental health institutions. The Netherlands has a supply of about 79 thousand vaccine doses, with three million expected to be delivered by the end of June, and 11.3 million in total by the end of the year.
The decision about the Janssen vaccine was made after an investigation from the European Medicines Agency's safety committee determined that the vaccine should be used even if it possibly causes an exceedingly rare side effect where blood clots form in the veins of the cerebrum and abdomen in combination with a low platelet count.
The vaccine was investigated after eight people under the age of 60 developed the condition in the United States. Most of them were women, the EMA said. That was out of over seven million people who were given the vaccine in that country.
The Janssen vaccine will be used in the Netherlands as planned, De Jonge said, because "the benefits outweigh the risks." He contrasted it against the AstraZeneca vaccine, similarly linked to blood clots with a low platelet count. That vaccine is only allowed for use in the Netherlands with people over 60, even though the EMA advised it can be safely used by people of all ages.
"The difference between Janssen and AstraZeneca is the figures. At AstraZeneca, we had eight cases of side effects from the Lareb side effect center out of 400,000 injections," he said. He was referring to eight cases which took place in the Netherlands out of a few dozen across Europe.
"It is advisable to continue to use AstraZeneca for people over sixty, and to use alternatives for people under sixty," he said id defense of his decision to exclusively use that vaccine for people over 60 years of age and others at high risk of serious Covid-19. De Jonge has been criticized repeatedly for not allowing people under the age of 60 to choose for themselves if they will accept the AstraZeneca vaccine, but De Jonge said that there is enough supply of other vaccines for younger people.
"People must be able to assume that the vaccine is safe, and that the government is informing them of the possible risks," he said.
After the EMA made its decision, Janssen parent company Johnson & Johnson said it would start delivering the vaccine to Europe again. The Netherlands had said it would not use the 79 thousand vaccine doses it already received until after the EMA study, at the request of the pharmaceutical giant.