Japan has suspended the use of 1.63 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of contamination in several vials, drugmaker Takeda and the health ministry have said.
Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, which is in charge of sales and distribution of the Moderna shot in Japan, on Thursday said it had “received reports from several vaccination centres that foreign substances have been found inside unopened vials”.
“Upon consultation with the health ministry, we have decided to suspend the use of the vaccine” from three whole batches from Thursday, it added.
The firm said it had informed Moderna and “requested an urgent investigation”. Moderna did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Takeda did not detail the nature of the contamination, but said it had not so far received any reports of health concerns arising from affected doses.
Contaminants were seen inside vials from one of the three batches, but officials suspended the use of vials from the two others as a precaution, said top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato.
“We have not received reports of health problems stemming from the foreign object,” he told reporters. “But we are asking people to consult their physicians if they experience any abnormality.”
Japanese media said the three batches were all produced in Spain at the same time.
Contaminants were seen in 39 unopened vials at eight vaccination locations in central Japan, including Tokyo, according to national broadcaster NHK.
The defence ministry said doses from a suspended batch had been administered between August 6-20 at its mass vaccination centre in the western city of Osaka.
However, staff visually check vials for contaminants before injecting the formula, the ministry said, adding that its Tokyo vaccination centre was not affected.
Kato said there had been no “concrete reports” that doses confirmed to contain contaminants had been administered.
The health ministry said it would work with Takeda to secure alternative doses to avoid disruption to the country’s vaccine programme, which has ramped up after a slow start.
Takeda declined to elaborate on the details, citing Moderna’s investigation. But a company spokesman said the firm encouraged the public to seek vaccine shots.
About 43 percent of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated, as the country battles a record surge of virus cases driven by the more contagious Delta variant.
At least 15,700 people have died from COVID-19 in the country during the pandemic, and large parts of Japan are under virus restrictions.