US halts Johnson&Johnson Covid-19 vaccine over rare blood clots
The suspension of the jab is sure to compound the vaccine problems of the EU, as it will delay deliveriesEuropost
US federal health authorities called on Tuesday for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, after reports of extremely rare blood clotting cases in women under 50. The decision is another fresh setback to efforts to tackle the pandemic, as Johnson & Johnson (J&J) said that these news mean a delay in the rollout of the vaccine to Europe.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) one person had died from the rare blood clotting condition after taking the J&J vaccine and another was in a critical condition. Altogether, six cases in 6.8 million doses had been reported and it was acting "out of an abundance of caution", when it comes to the J&J jab.
All six cases involved women between the ages of 18 and 48, and the symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. In the cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia).
"An advisory committee to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet on Wednesday to review the cases, and the FDA will review the analysis," the agencies said in a joint statement.
Immunology experts stressed the risk posed by the J&J vaccine appeared extremely low, and that the shot remained a valuable tool against the risks of COVID-19. However they acknowledged the need for health officials to proceed with caution to understand the best ways to mitigate any risk.
“Even if causally linked to the vaccine: 6 cases with about 7 million doses (lower than the risk of clots with oral contraceptives) is not something to panic about,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said in an email to Reuters.
“People are asking me if they should cancel their J&J vaccine appointments and I have told them not to but I know many will and this will stall progress in controlling the pandemic.”
J&J’s single dose vaccine - most COVID-19 shots are delivered over two doses - and AstraZeneca’s low-cost vaccine are seen as vital tools in the fight against a pandemic that has claimed more than three million lives. Now the moves come after European regulators said earlier this month they had found a possible link between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and a similar rare blood clotting problem that led to a very small number of deaths.
FDA acting commissioner Janet Woodcock, however, aid it expected the pause to be a matter of days, and it was aimed at providing information to healthcare providers so that they can diagnose, treat and report such blood clots.
FDA official Peter Marks said that part of the reason for the pause was to warn doctors that administering the standard treatments for clots can cause tremendous harm, or be fatal.
US health officials also stressed there had been no similar blood clot cases reported among recipients of the Pfizer/BioNTech of Moderna vaccine, but they are relying on different technology in comparison to AstraZeneca and J&J.
The J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines both use an adenovirus vector - a harmless cold virus that instructs human cells to produce a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus, thereby spurring the immune system to prepare an arsenal against the COVID-19-causing virus.
Among leading global COVID-19 vaccine developers, China’s CanSino Biological and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute with its Sputnik V vaccine are also relying on this approach.
The Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna vaccines, on the other hand use mRNA technology.