Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused after rare blood clot in 6 women, Joe Biden admin says won't hit rollout plan

One of the women died and a second is currently in hospital, according to reports


                            Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused after rare blood clot in 6 women, Joe Biden admin says won't hit rollout plan
Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine has been paused in the US (Getty Images)

The Joe Biden administration has announced that it is pausing the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccines. Federal health authorities made the announcement on Tuesday, April 13, after six concerning reports emerged. Six women, aged between 18 and 48, suffered unusual blood clots. One of the women died and a second is currently in hospital, according to reports. All women reported the clots within two weeks of getting their doses.

As of April 12, more than 6.8M doses of the Janssen vaccine have been administered in the US, so six cases is a small number. Nonetheless, officials say the move was taken "out of an abundance of caution". The pause will affect all appointments in the US, while the company has said it would delay the rollout of the vaccine in Europe. South Africa has also suspended the use of the vaccine, while Australia has announced it would not purchase any doses. 

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A box containing vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine sits on a desk before being transported to a refrigeration unit at Louisville Metro Health and Wellness headquarters on March 4, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky (Getty Images)

Adverse effects in vaccinations aren't uncommon. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that "in the past, between 14 and 52 people out of every 1 million people vaccinated for the first time experienced potentially life-threatening reactions." While extremely rare, such reactions do occur since everyone's body is different. Dr Anthony Fauci told CBS News, "If you've had it a month or two ago, I think you really don't need to worry about anything. If you are in the time frame of within a week or two of having gotten vaccinated, remember one thing: This is a very rare event."

If you got a shot, be cautious

While reviewing vaccine data, the CDC and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) found six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) in combination with low levels of blood platelets. This rare type of blood clot is also a challenge to treat. According to the joint announcement, "usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given."

All planned J&J vaccine appointments have been canceled. The next step is for a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), scheduled for Wednesday, April 14. The committee will review the cases before recommending how the government can proceed. For now, the government is asking those vaccinated within the last 14 days to be extra cautious. If anyone who has received a dose recently experiences "severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath, you should contact your healthcare provider", Dr Anne Schuchat, CDC's Principal Deputy Director said

Since there is no way to predict who will develop symptoms, so the CDC is asking all those who received a shot recently to be cautious. The unusual combination of clotting and bleeding that threw up red flags is similar to cases reported in Europe. Last month, several European nations reported similar disorders in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. The vaccine was cleared in late March by European regulators.  

A Health Department employee unloads boxes containing Janssen COVID-19 vials at Louisville Metro Health and Wellness headquarters on March 4, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky (Getty Images)

No need to worry

While regulators analyze the issue, the White House insisted the pause would not affect Biden's rollout plans. White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said, "This announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan: Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the recorded shots in arms in the United States to date." He added, "Based on actions taken by the President earlier this year, the United States has secured enough Pfizer and Moderna doses for 300 million Americans."

J&J has also issued a public statement. The company said, "We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public." The pause is likely to be in effect for only a few days before the vaccine is cleared. As the New York Times reported, "pauses are common, and typically the investigations reveal that the medical problems were a matter of coincidence".

It is important to note that the clotting issue is extremely rare. Most people will experience mild symptoms like a headache, fever and a body ache. These are normal and expected. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are also completely safe to take. In case you are concerned, we urge you to talk to your local healthcare provider.

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