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Japan suspends 1.63 million Moderna vaccine doses over contamination

Takeda Pharmaceutical Company, which is in charge of sales and distribution of the Moderna shot in Japan, said on Thursday that it has received reports from several vaccination centers that foreign substances have been found inside unopened vials.

The firm said that upon consultation with the health ministry, the use of the vaccine has been suspended and it had informed Moderna and requested an urgent investigation.

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 39 unopened vials at eight vaccination locations in central Japan, including Tokyo.

The contaminants were noticed in 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.

According to the defence ministry, 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.

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