Top Biden Health Officials Face Congress After J&J Vaccine Pause


Top U.S. health officials, set to testify Thursday at a House hearing, are likely to face questions about the government’s decision to pause use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine after a small number of recipients developed severe blood clots.

Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined Wednesday they didn’t have enough data on the rare blood clots to recommend the next steps, effectively extending the pause that started Tuesday. The interruption isn’t likely to slow the U.S. vaccination campaign much given most Americans are receiving shots made by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., the Biden administration has said.

The J&J halt, coming amid a recent uptick in virus cases and the wide spread of variants, has raised concerns the U.S. immunization campaign could falter if hesitancy is heightened. At the same time, the one-shot vaccine, which doesn’t require expensive refrigeration, is seen as useful in programs aimed at inoculating those who are homebound, homeless or in jobs that make it hard to schedule multiple appointments.

“We are at risk, once again, of overtaxing an overwhelmed health system,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in testimony prepared for Thursday’s hearing.

As of April 10, the weekly average number of cases grew 3% over the previous week’s average, as did hospitalizations, Walensky said in the prepared testimony. She said it is possible variants are to blame for the growing spread but added “it is likely that other factors, such as relaxation of prevention efforts, are contributing to this case increase.”

Top Biden Health Officials Face Congress After J&J Vaccine Pause

The U.S. reported almost 78,000 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday and 913 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Cases began to increase again in mid-March after falling from highs in December and January.

“One of the most concerning developments of the ongoing pandemic is the spread of genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2, some of which appear to be more transmissible than the original virus, more virulent, and/or less responsive to certain therapeutic agents and vaccine formulations,” according to prepared testimony from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

NIAID is studying the variants and their potential effects on vaccine efficacy, he said.

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