WASHINGTON — No new blood clotting cases have been definitively confirmed one week after initial reports of such cases led federal regulators to recommend that states temporarily stop administering the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine. That could change in the coming days, but the news may signal that the vaccine could be back in rotation within a matter of days.
A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Yahoo News on Monday that the agency’s database of vaccine-related medical complications, known as VAERS, “is constantly receiving reports from individuals and providers. CDC scientists have received a handful of adverse events reported in VAERS since the pause announced last week. At this time, no additional cases of the rare form of blood clots post-vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been confirmed.”
During a Monday morning briefing of the White House coronavirus response team, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky similarly alluded to what appears, thus far, to be the extreme rarity of the blood clotting issue, which has affected eight people in the United States, killing one. Close to 7 million people received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine before distribution was paused.
“Right now, we are encouraged that it hasn’t been an overwhelming number of cases,” Walensky said. The CDC spokesperson said that agency scientists will investigate reports submitted to the VAERS database in the coming days in order to determine whether the clotting issue is more prevalent than it appears to be. “If any additional cases are found in safety surveillance, data will be reported to ACIP at its Friday meeting,” the spokesperson said.
ACIP, or the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, is a federal advisory board that will decide whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe to use again. It met last Friday but took no action, citing the need for more data.
If the “handful” of potential clotting cases remains just that, ACIP could decide when it meets again on Friday that states can resume use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though with new guidance for both the vaccine recipients and medical professionals to be on the lookout for telltale symptoms of clotting, such as leg or abdominal pain.
Speaking on Sunday morning in a CNN appearance, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top scientific adviser to President Biden, predicted that “by Friday we’ll get back on track one way or the other.”
Initial reports indicated that six women suffered from clotting after being given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One of those women died. Faced with an extremely rare but extremely serious side effect, public health officials in the Biden administration were confronted with the challenge of explaining a risk the scope of which they did not yet fully know themselves. Some criticized the Johnson & Johnson pause as a needless show of caution, given how low the risk of clotting appears to be.
Although Biden administration officials have pointed out that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine constitutes only about 5 percent of all doses administered in the United States, they also understand that members of the public may simply conclude from sensationalized media reports that all vaccines are unsafe. Safety and the perception of safety, in other words, are hardly the same thing, and the need to restore confidence in the vaccination effort is crucial.
The two other vaccines approved for use in the United States are manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer. They have not been tied to any reports of blood clotting, probably because they work using a technology called messenger RNA. The vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use adenoviral vectors.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has not been approved in the U.S., caused blood clots in several dozen people across Europe. Regulators there ultimately determined that the risk of clotting was extremely low and that the vaccine was safe to use.
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