Slovenia has suspended vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine while it investigates the death of a 20-year-old woman, as thousands gathered in this country to protest vaccination.

The suspension will remain in effect until experts determine whether there is a link between the woman’s death from a stroke and the vaccine she received two weeks prior, according to Health Minister Janez Poklukar on Wednesday.

A Slovenian woman dies after getting Johnson vaccine

Slovenian media have reported that the woman was hospitalized in a serious condition on Monday, days after receiving the single-dose Janssen vaccine produced by the US pharmaceutical company.

The 20-year-old died of a brain haemorrhage and blood clots on Tuesday night.

Experts advising the government had recommended the suspension after learning that “there could be an undesired link between the death and the vaccination”, said Bojana Beovic, who heads the expert group.

The one-dose jabs have grown in popularity in Slovenia in recent weeks, following the widespread implementation of COVID passes, which will also be required for employment in all state-run firms. In response to rising demand, the government has authorized the purchase of an additional 100,000 J&J doses from Hungary.

Thousands protest vaccination in Slovenia capital

The woman’s death this week was the second serious case of adverse effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which were given to approximately 120,000 people in Slovenia, according to the official STA news agency.

However, the “benefits continue to outweigh the risks,” according to Poklukar.

Nonetheless, the announcement is likely to fuel Wednesday’s anti-vaccination and anti-coronavirus protests in the capital, Ljubljana.

During Wednesday evening’s protests, police used tear gas to break up the crowds after they blocked one of the capital’s main roads.

About 10,000 protesters, chanting “Freedom! Freedom!” tried to block a major highway north of Ljubljana when the police intervened, the second such incident in Slovenia within a month.

Local news media reported that among the protesters was the father of the woman who died.

Thousands have previously attended similar protests, and demonstrators have recently clashed with police. Police put up metal fences ahead of Wednesday’s rally and urged participants to remain calm.

The protesters carried banners reading “Stop Corona Fascism” and demanded equal rights for both those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

“I am here for the future, the future of my kids, future generations, because this craziness needs to be stopped,” protester Katja Zupan said. “If we don’t stand up for ourselves and for mankind, then we are done, we are lost.”

Slovenia, like much of Central and Eastern Europe, has seen an increase in infections in recent weeks. The country of about 2 million people has vaccinated nearly half of its population, which is lower than in many other EU countries.

Unlike some countries, Slovenia has recommended Johnson & Johnson vaccines to all people over the age of 18, whereas others have restricted their use to the elderly.

Several countries limited the use of so-called viral vector jabs such as AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson due to a link with rare blood clots.

(Source: AP and AFP)