Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine under scrutiny

World Today

Ever since it became available, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been seen by many as a quick and easy way to get protected from COVID-19.

“With Johnson & Johnson you just get one shot and you’re done,” said one vaccine recipient recently.

That option is off the table at the moment while federal health officials review reports of a handful of individuals who got rare and severe blood clots after receiving the vaccine.

The agency that regulates drugs for the European Union say it’s found possible links between Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine and rare blood clots but insists the benefits of taking the shot outweigh the risks. It’s recommending the drug’s continued use with a new warning on the label.

“You know it’s too soon to say exactly what the timeline on this is,” said Scott Bookman, Colorado’s COVID-19 Incident Commander.

Johnson & Johnson has played a relatively minor role in his state’s vaccine efforts. An average of 3200 doses per week of J&J, compared to hundreds of thousands of weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna. Johnson & Johnson, which planned to deliver one hundred million doses to the U.S. by the end of May, has been plagued by manufacturing problems.

“We have not incorporated J&J into our weekly planning because that supply has been so inconsistent over the last several weeks even before the pause was put in,” Bookman said.

Still the J&J pause hasn’t been met with significant concern, particularly in larger states, where overall vaccine supply continues to be a challenge. In an opinion piece last week in the Washington Post, two bioethicists argued “As infections and hospitalizations rise in many states, slowing down vaccinations was a deadly mistake.”

“There is no evidence the vaccine’s risks… outweigh its benefits in preventing a pandemic disease with serious and unknown consequences.”

They said the pause will hurt disadvantaged communities most of all, those most in need of a one-shot option. Bookman said at a time of vaccine hesitancy, making sure people are comfortable with the drugs is key.

“I think globally we want to make sure that people have the utmost confidence in the vaccine and that’s about being transparent,” Bookman said.

Johnson & Johnson was expected to produce one billion doses by the end of this year.

“One billion doses, you can vaccinate one billion people,” said Tinglong Dai with Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School. “That’s a larger proportion of people worldwide. So this definitely is a very big setback for the world, although it’s a very small setback for the U.S.”

One prominent U.S. expert predicts J&J will be back in the vaccine mix.

“My estimate is we will continue to use it in some form,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recently. “I doubt very seriously if they just cancel it. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

A decision on the vaccine’s U.S. use by a federal panel could come at its next meeting this coming Friday.