J&J vaccine under scrutiny during distribution pause

Photo courtesy of Hakan Nural, Unsplash

The United States Food and Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently supported the temporary ceasing of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine distribution.   

Six women between the ages of 18 and 45 suffered from rare blood clot complications within 13 days of a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Among the six, a 45-year-old Virginian woman’s death is currently being investigated while another woman remains in critical condition.  

Although controversial, blood clots comprise a tiny minority of all serious side effects associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The six women are the only known blood clot cases linked to the vaccine. No other clots were reported from the recipients of the 6.8 million doses. 

In defense of the pause, Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s vaccine center, added that the decision provides medical researchers some time to review and analyze the blood clot cases in hopes of eliminating future side effects. 

“When medical countermeasures injure people in the United States,” Marks said, “we simply have to do whatever we can to minimize or eliminate issues that might be considered friendly fire.”

Out of the 213 million COVID vaccines administered as of April 20, 3% have been the J&J vaccine. Jeff Zient, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, issued a statement arguing that vaccine distribution will persist. 

“Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the recorded shots in arms in the United States to date,” Zient’s statement reads. “The United States has secured enough Pfizer and Moderna doses for 300 million Americans.”

Without Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna are still able to provide enough vaccines for almost every American before 2022. In Europe, the same conclusion cannot be made. 

Rare blood clot reports stemming from the rival Oxford-AstraZeneca Company’s vaccines prompted a temporary stall in the COVID vaccine distribution. Given that AstraZeneca was one of the most implemented vaccines in Europe, the brief discontinuation of the vaccine created a big vaccine scarcity. 

European countries hoped to fill shortages with J&J vaccines as they required only one vaccine dose, which saves time and vaccine supplies.

Like in the United States, blood clot reports from the J&J vaccine affected the European vaccine supply. The Johnson & Johnson Company declared a delay in their vaccine rollout in Europe, further stunting vaccination drives across the continent. 

The European Medicines Agencies utilized the time period for further studies. The organization found that the J&J vaccines were mostly safe, but required a warning label on all doses of potential rare blood clots as a possible side effect. Some European nations are now preparing to resume J&J vaccines as a result of the EMA’s findings. 

In the United States, the J&J vaccine continues to be scrutinized due to additional reports of severe side effects possibly linked to the vaccine. More studies are expected to be conducted before reaching a final conclusion.