Japanese Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Tuesday that contamination found in Moderna Covid-19 vaccines in southern Okinawa Prefecture could have been caused when needles were inserted into the vials, in a clarification within days after suspension of more than a million doses.
Mr Tamura vowed to continue the investigation and tried to assure people that the foreign bodies detected in the vaccines posed no risk to personal safety.
“Whatever the reason (for the foreign body), we heard that there was no security or other issue,” Tamura told reporters.
He said it was not uncommon for foreign material to enter a vial with other vaccines and believes needles may have been inserted incorrectly into the vials, breaking the rubber stopper.
Striking a blow to Japan’s vaccination campaign amid a spiraling Covid crisis, the government temporarily halted vaccination roll-out in two prefectures, Okinawa and Gunma, just days after use was suspended of approximately 1.63 million doses due to contamination issues.
So far, vial contamination has been identified in seven prefectures, including Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Gifu and Aichi, according to Kyodo News.
The health ministry said black substances were found in syringes and a vial, while pink substances were found in another syringe.
The ministry later said it was investigating the deaths of two men, aged 38 and 30, who died days after receiving a second dose of Moderna vaccine on August 15 and 22. The two had received a dose of one of the suspended batches, Reuters reported.
Both complained of fever after receiving the second dose and died two days later. There was no evidence of contaminants in their shots, a health ministry official told reporters.
“Currently, no link has been confirmed between these deaths and the Moderna vaccine, but we believe it is important to conduct a formal investigation to further investigate,” Takeda Pharmaceutical, who is in charge of sales and the distribution of Moderna. vaccine in Japan, said in a statement on Saturday.
So far, around 500,000 people have been identified who have received injections of the three suspended vaccine batches, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccination campaign, said on Friday.
As of August 8, the number of people who died after receiving Pfizer covid injections stood at 991 and deaths after Moderna injections were reported at 11. However, no link has been established between the deaths and the injections, according to the Ministry of Health.
Vaccine concerns come as Japan faces its worst Covid-19 outbreak to date, amid criticism from the government for hosting the Olympics and Paralympics despite the surge.
The continuing surge in cases has overwhelmed the healthcare system in several parts of the country, as Tokyo scrambles to add more beds for Covid patients.
The country has vaccinated about 45% of its population with two doses. Japan added 13,625 new infections on Monday, bringing its total to 1.47 million.
The Independent Gt