Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine has had its use in the US suspended after health advisers told the government this week that more evidence is required to decide if a handful of extremely rare blood clots were linked to the shot.
Only six cases out of more than 7 million inoculations in the US have been reported with the one-dose vaccine but the government officially recommended a pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations this week. European regulators declared last week that such clots are a possible risk with the AstraZeneca vaccine, a shot produced in a similar way but not yet approved for use in the US.
Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to wrestle with the fact that the US has enough vaccine alternatives to carry on without the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for some time, but other countries anxiously awaiting the one-and-done shot may not.
“Yesterday, the FDA and CDC announced that out of an abundance of caution, it recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as they review data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. I want to be clear that this announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination program. The J&J vaccine makes up less than 5% of the more than 190 million recorded shots in the arms in the US to date,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said during the latest White House Covid-19 press conference.
“Importantly, this means we have more than enough supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to continue the current pace of vaccinations, meet the president’s goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office, and continue to reach every adult who wants to be vaccinated by the end of May. We are working now with our state and federal partners to get anyone currently scheduled for a J&J vaccine quickly rescheduled for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. We’re seeing this take place across the country.”
The reported clots, now under investigation, are extremely rare varieties. They occurred in atypical places, in veins that drain blood from the brain and usually have low platelet counts. The sufferers of the clots were also unusual as well, as they were people with low level of clot-forming platelets.
According to the CDC’s Dr Tom Shimabukuro, the six cases of blood clots have raised alarm bells because that number is at least three times more than experts would have expected to see even of more typical brain-damage clots.
“The president has committed to the American people that his administration will always lead with science, tell the truth, and give Americans the facts as we know them,” Zients continued at the press conference.
“Over the past 24 hours, we’ve been working to provide clear information to the public related to the J&J pause, engaging state and local health officials, governors, community leaders, clinicians, and medical experts, and our public health officials will continue to appear on television, radio and social media to communicate directly to the American people so Americans have the latest information and answers to their questions and the opportunity to learn more about the safety and the efficacy of the vaccines and the importance of getting vaccinated.”
To date, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has only played a minor role in the United States’ vaccination efforts. More than 120 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, the vast majority of which have been shots made by Moderna of Pfizer. 23% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Although the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is not pivotal to the US’ overall vaccination plan, there are fears the clot concerns could undermine confidence in the shot that was tipped by many to help some of the hardest-to-reach populations – in poor countries or in places like homeless shelters in the US.
“Stepping back, building vaccine confidence and increasing access to vaccination is central to our efforts to put this pandemic behind us. That’s why we’ve invested $3 billion to help states and community-based organizations build vaccine confidence, particularly in the hardest hit and highest risk communities,” Zients said.
“We are getting fact-based messaging and resources into the hands of trusted local messengers. And it’s why we are making data on the state of the pandemic publicly available, holding these regular press briefings and are committed to sharing the facts at every turn.
“Yesterday’s action should give the American people confidence in the FDA and CDC, the thoroughness of their review process and their commitment to transparency and protection of public health. We believe that by empowering Americans with data and facts, we will strengthen the public’s trust in government and increase their confidence in the vaccines.”