CDC Adviser Sees Potential for Longer Pause on J&J Vaccine

A hold on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S. could stretch out for several weeks, according to the head of an advisory panel that is expected to make a recommendation about whether shots should resume.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is weighing the scientific evidence after reports that six people who received the vaccine subsequently suffered rare blood clots in the brain. Earlier this week, U.S. regulators ordered a temporary halt in use of the shot.

After deciding not to vote on a recommendation on Wednesday, the advisory panel is tentatively scheduled to reconvene on Thursday or Friday of next week, chairman Jose Romero said in a telephone interview.

The CDC will ultimately set the date of the next meeting and the agency should make its announcement this Friday, Romero said. A CDC spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment.

It’s possible the panel won’t make a recommendation at the next meeting, Romero said, raising the possibility that the pause could last for several weeks. He said the group needs more data to evaluate the shot’s safety. He said he doesn’t expect the suspension to last for months.

“The committee needs information in order to make a recommendation. And if there isn’t, then there is certainly the possibility that it could extend the pause,” Romero said. “We really hope that there’ll be enough information that we can begin to make recommendations next week, but we understand that the CDC has to do the analysis of what they have already and what is coming in.”

About 50% of the J&J doses administered in the U.S. were given in the past few weeks, so more cases of clotting could emerge in the next week, Romero said. The reported blood clots occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

Delay Debate

Health experts disagree on whether halting use of J&J’s vaccine is warranted. Some say regulators should keep the vaccine on hold until they know more, especially since there are two other vaccines available in the U.S. Others say delays risk creating more vaccine hesitancy.

“If we make a wrong decision about this, it will impact our credibility and credibility of the vaccine safety system,” Romero said. “So it’s very important that we get this right and that we do it in as expeditiously a manner as possible.”

Romero said he isn’t aware of any new cases of clotting that have been reported since Wednesday’s meeting, though he’s not part of the subcommittee that’s monitoring the safety data. All six cases under investigation were reported in women between the ages of 18 and 48, raising questions about whether the syndrome primarily affects females or young people generally. However, the number of cases is so small that panelists want to see more data.

“The problem is that we need to get that data into it,” Romero said about the possibility of recommending to limit use of J&J’s vaccine to certain populations, as some European countries have done with AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine. “We need to be able to look at what’s going on before we can make an informed decision or form recommendations.”

The U.S. has the luxury of taking its time to evaluate the link between the syndrome and the J&J vaccine since millions of shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. are shipping every week. Some countries, especially in the developing world, are relying on J&J’s shot to protect their residents from the novel coronavirus. Whatever decision the U.S. makes could have global implications, something Romero says ACIP members recognize.

“While we acknowledge the fact that our decisions do have impact outside of the United States, we really have to focus on the decision for the U.S. population and not the world population,” he said.

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