US allows J&J COVID-19 vaccinations to resume

Washington: US health officials have lifted an 11-day pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations following a recommendation by an expert panel. Advisers to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday (Saturday AEST) the benefits of the single-dose COVID-19 shot outweigh a rare risk of blood clots.

Panel members said it’s critical that younger women be told about that risk so they can decide if they would rather choose another vaccine. The CDC and Food and Drug Administration agreed.

Vials of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.Credit:AP

European regulators earlier this week made a similar decision, deciding the clot risk was small enough to allow the rollout of J&J’s shot.

Federal health officials uncovered 15 vaccine recipients who developed a highly unusual kind of blood clot, out of nearly 8 million people given the J&J shot. All were women, most under age 50. Three died, and seven remain hospitalised.

Advisers to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said while J&J’s vaccine is important for fighting the pandemic, it’s also critical that younger women be told about that risk in clear, understandable terms — so they can decide if they’d rather choose an alternate vaccine instead.

The panel voted 10-4 to lift an 11-day pause in use of the J&J shot while adding warnings that women and health workers would see in leaflets at vaccination clinics.

A vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19.Credit:AP

The group debated but ultimately steered clear of outright age restrictions.

“This is an age group that is most at risk (of the clotting) that is getting vaccine predominately to save other peoples’ lives and morbidity, not their own. And I think we have a responsibility to be certain that they know this,” said Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University College of Medicine, who voted against the proposal because she felt it did not go far enough in warning women.

The CDC and Food and Drug Administration will weigh Friday’s recommendation in deciding whether to end the pause; the CDC typically follows the guidance of its advisers and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has promised swift action.

The committee members all agreed the J&J vaccine “should be put back into circulation,” panel chairman Dr Jose Romero, Arkansas’ health secretary, said in an interview after the vote.

“The difference was how you convey the risk … It does not absolve us from making sure that people who receive this vaccine, if they are in the risk group, that we inform them of that.”

European regulators earlier this week made a similar decision, deciding the clot risk was small enough to allow the rollout of J&J’s shot. But how Americans ultimately handle J&J’s vaccine will influence other countries that don’t have as much access to other vaccination options.

AP

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