Japan’s health ministry has decided to halt all covid-19 vaccinations that depend on the Moderna brand after “foreign substances” were found in 39 vials, according to the Japan Times. The foreign substances have yet to be identified but are reportedly “a few millimetres” in size.
The foreign substances in Japan’s supply of the Moderna vaccine were discovered at eight different vaccination sites in the prefectures of Tokyo, Ibaraki, Saitama, Gifu, and Aichi, according to the Japan Times, and were reported to the ministry of health on Wednesday.
The vaccine vials were reportedly produced in Spain and it’s not immediately clear whether that factory has shipped any Moderna vials to the United States or anywhere else in the world. The potentially contaminated vaccine was produced under the lot numbers 3004667, 3004734, and 3004956.
The health care company told Kyodo News that Moderna is “carefully assessing this matter and at this point does not have further comments on root causes.” Moderna stressed that “no safety or efficacy issues have been identified” to date.
Japan has already administered at least 10 million Moderna doses and there have been no reports of adverse reactions to the shot in that country. But the recall of covid-19 vaccine doses could potentially have an extremely negative impact on public health in Japan, a country that’s struggled with its vaccine rollout and is currently experiencing a huge spike in cases of covid-19.
Just 42.5% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University, well below the rates of other wealthy countries. The U.S. covid-19 vaccination rate is currently 52.33% of the total population.
Japan is currently experiencing its worst covid-19 surge of the entire pandemic, with over 24,000 new cases reported on Wednesday alone. Back in June, the country was averaging only about 1,500 cases per day.
Much like other countries, Japan is overwhelmed with the delta variant of covid-19, which is much more contagious than previous strains. In fact, the viral load of delta is thought to be roughly 300 times higher than other version of covid-19, according to a recent study out of South Korea.
Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., which handles sales and distribution of the Moderna vaccine in Japan, has requested a formal inquiry into the contaminated vaccine batches. The Japanese government has a contract with Moderna to receive 50 million doses by the end of September, though it’s not immediately clear what potential contamination from foreign substances does to their existing contracts.