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Fearing Contamination, Japan Suspends the use of Millions of Doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Published: August 31, 2021
TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 26: A police officer wearing a face mask patrols along Nakamise shopping street on August 26, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Japan suspended the use of 1.63 million doses of Moderna Covid-19 vaccines today after reports that some of the vials contained unspecified contaminants. (Image: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Japan has temporarily suspended the use of over 2.6 million doses of Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine after foreign substances were found in batches of the vaccine and after two people have died following jabs with the affected lots.

Japan’s supply of the Moderna vaccine has been dogged by reports that the vaccines have been contaminated with a yet to be disclosed substance(s). The most recent reports are emerging from the Gunma prefecture near Tokyo and in the southern prefecture of Okinawa.

An official from the Gunma prefecture said that a tiny black substance was observed in a Moderna vaccine vial and in Okinawa, what is assumed to be the same substance, was discovered in syringes when health care workers were administering the vaccine. A pink material has also been observed in a different syringe. 

Japan’s health minister speculated that the substances may be due to needles being incorrectly inserted into vials, breaking off bits of the rubber stopper. Despite the concerns, some vials from the affected lots are still being administered,  the ministry said on Monday.

Rovi, a Spanish pharma company which bottles the Moderna vaccine for distribution to countries other than the U.S. said that the contamination could potentially be the result of a manufacturing issue in one of Rovi’s production lines, the Globe and Mail reported. 

Rovi shares plunged more than 20 percent following the reports of the contamination. 

A government report, issued on Saturday, Aug. 28 stated that two people had died after receiving Moderna vaccinations that were among the questionable lots that were subsequently suspended. 

Vaccines from the same lot have been administered to 4,575 people in Gunma; however there have been no further reports of illness or injury following the inoculations, Japanese officials stated. 

No conclusions have been drawn concerning the deaths and the lots that have been pulled have been as a precautionary measure only. 

Takahiro Kinoshita, a physician and vice-chair of Cov-Navi, a vaccine information group, told The Globe and Mail that “It is unlikely, in my opinion, that contamination of foreign substances led directly to sudden deaths.” adding that, “If the contaminated substances were dangerous enough to cause death for some people, probably many more people would have suffered from some symptoms after the vaccination.”

Further investigations into the matter are ongoing with authorities stating that they need to evaluate the potential harm of the particular doses in question. 

Japan is currently battling its worst wave of COVID-19 to date primarily due to the Delta variant which first appeared in India in late 2020 and is being blamed for upwards of 25,000 infections in Japan just in the last month. 

To date, Japan has recorded over 1.46 million cases of COVID-19 with 15,994 deaths.