The short but damaging pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine could be over as soon as Friday, according to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the CDC and the FDA and the advisory committee, but I would imagine that what we will say is that it would come back, and it would come back in some sort of either warning or restriction,” he said on Meet the Press Sunday, referring to the federal agencies that temporarily halted the use of the candidate due to extremely rare but severe cases of blood clotting. Of around 7.5 million Americans who received the shot, 6 developed blood clots in their brain after receiving the vaccine. Fauci’s timeline is consistent with one provided by the CDC and FDA last week, when the agencies announced they needed more time to determine what to do with the only single-dose vaccine approved for use in the United States.
Also on Sunday, The Wall Street Journal provided more details into the decision to pause the Johnson & Johnson shot. While health authorities came close to issuing just a warning, they recommended a temporary suspension in part because the rare clotting was made worse in four of the six patients by heparin, which is a common treatment for clotting. According to the Journal, the most likely options for the vaccine to return to the market are “restricting the shot to an age group such as men and women over 50 years, or allowing a return to widespread use but with added a warning about the benefits and risks of the shot.”
Though the Johnson & Johnson shot could ultimately be off the market for less than two weeks, the pause is the most significant challenge to the vaccine rollout since it gained momentum late this winter. It also appears to have increased vaccine hesitancy in the United States, as Intelligencer’s Paola Rosa-Aquino notes: “Early data from an Economist–YouGov poll suggests the news of the clots and the decision to pause may have dented public perception on the vaccine. Before the announcement, 52 percent of those surveyed thought the shot was safe; after, that dropped by 15 percentage points to 37 percent.”
The trouble with Johnson & Johnson has emerged at the same time as several important milestones in the historic effort to end the pandemic: As of Sunday, 65 percent of those over 65 are fully vaccinated and 50 percent of all adults have received at least one dose. On Monday, the Biden administration will launch a new media blitz promoting the fact that all Americans are now eligible to sign up for a shot.