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Coronavirus update: J&J vaccine pause remains, Oxford studies blood clots and COVID-19 vaccines

·Senior Reporter
·4-min read
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The Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) vaccine pause will remain in effect for another week to 10 days, after a vaccine advisory panel delayed a vote on recommendations to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention Wednesday.

The move, spurred by a handful of reports of blood clots two weeks after vaccination, has caused some consternation among health officials, who believe the move is a misstep and could undermine vaccine confidence.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, suggested the health agencies which recommended the pause could simply move forward and create an exception for women between the ages fo 18 and 48 — which encapsulates the six reported cases of blood clots.

The panel learned that of the more than 7 million J&J vaccines administered, seven blood clot cases have been reported. Few details have been released about the seventh case as the company pursues information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about it. In addition, of the 7 million doses, about 1.5 million were administered to women between the ages of 18-48.

It's why some experts support a recommendation like Jha's, saying there is already too much at stake: The U.S. is contending with rising cases, vaccine hesitancy and virus variants that threaten the progress made by vaccinations.

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The concern over J&J's vaccine is largely rooted in the potential global impact of pausing or halting use of the shot, the only single-dose vaccine stable at room temperature. Any doubts cast on it could impact hard-to-reach areas around the world — including rural areas of America.

It's why Dr. Michael Williams, director of the University of Virginia Center for Health Policy, told Yahoo Finance he struggles with the panel's decision because "perception drove this decision more than the science."

"The fraught nature of where science lives in the American psyche right now, in direct response to the last administration's attack on science," has lead to increased skepticism and mistrust, Williams said.

Which is why the nuanced level of discussion — separating the cause of the blood clots with the association to vaccines— is potentially being misconstrued.

"To say that Covid vaccinations cause anything is tricky," Williams said.

There are some vaccine experts who believe there shouldn't be any restrictions at all.

Bioethicist and NYU Langone Health professor Dr. Arthur Caplan told Yahoo Finance the message should be "keep vaccinating until we figure out what's going on," especially to combat vaccine hesitancy worldwide, he said. 

"I’m not ready to tell anyone with a one-in-a-million chance not to take something," Caplan said.

Blood clots and COVID-19

Another piece to the puzzle is the occurrence of blood clots in COVID-19 patients.

A recent study from Oxford University — which created the AstraZeneca (AZN) vaccine— summarized the occurrence of blood clots in COVID-19 patients as well as vaccinated individuals.

The findings, which have not been peer-reviewed yet, show that the specific occurrence of blood clots — cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) — is 30% more likely in COVID-19 patients under the age of 30.

In addition, the occurrence of CVT in individuals receiving the mRNA vaccines, such as shots from Pfizer (PFE)/BioNTech (BNTX) and Moderna (MRNA), is 4 in 1 million.

Earlier this week, Moderna pre-emptively addressed these concerns, saying that after more than 64.5 million doses have been administered globally, reports do not "suggest an association" with blood clots.

Pfizer, similarly, noted there is no evidence of "a risk associated with the use of our COVID-19 vaccine," according to a statement to Yahoo Finance Thursday.

Pfizer also noted that the CDC panel Wednesday focused on a rare occurrence of blood clots "recorded after vaccination with the Johnson and Johnson adenovirus vaccine" and that the "CDC reported that no similar findings have been observed with the authorized Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine."

All told, experts point to COVID-19 having greater long-term impacts, and the threat of death, compared to rare serious reactions like blood clots, as a reason to unpause J&J's vaccinations.

Currently more than half of states have heeded the CDC's and FDA's recommendation to pause, and pharmacies like Walgreens (WBA) and CVS (CVS) have canceled or rescheduled J&J appointments.

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