US health officials call for J&J vaccine pause over rare blood clots

Federal regulators asked for a pause on administering Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. But the Biden administration insists that the pause will be relatively short and will not have a negative impact on the country’s vaccination effort.

Injections of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine came to a sudden stop in states and pharmacies across the country after top U.S. health officials on Tuesday called for a pause while they review cases of rare blood clots in people receiving the shots.

The officials said they are reviewing six cases of a “rare and severe type of blood clot” out of more than 6.8 million people in the U.S. who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

While the instances were rare, federal and state officials said the moves were made out of an abundance of caution. The pause is intended to give regulators time to analyze the evidence and make sure providers know how to handle the potential side effects.

The standard treatment for blood clots, a drug called heparin, could cause “tremendous harm,” for patients who got the vaccine, so doctors need to know to use alternate treatments, said Peter Marks, a top FDA official.

What’s next: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is convening an emergency meeting Wednesday of its vaccine advisory committee. The committee’s recommendations to the agency could run the gamut from adding a warning to the label, to recommending certain populations avoid the vaccine.

Implications: Depending on how long the pause lasts, the move could have ramifications for the nation’s vaccine supply. It could also worsen vaccine hesitancy, which was already a problem as some people refused to be inoculated.

Overreaction? Health officials defended the pause, despite there being only six reported cases, because it’s important to get notice to providers quickly. Officials also indicated there is a possibility of a common thread between the clotting seen in J&J patients and in those in Europe who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.