Color me confused.
If a half-dozen severely adverse reactions to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are enough for federal health authorities to call for a pause in using it, why don’t they just order that?
Why are they just punting to the states?
It sounds like being a little bit pregnant.
And CDC officials had a hard time yesterday answering reporters’ questions on that very point.
They stressed that the six women, 18 to 48, who developed an unusual disorder–one died, another is in critical condition—is a miniscule percentage of the nearly 7 J&J million shots that have been administered so far. “Extremely rare,” said the acting FDA commissioner. But that opened them up to questions on whether this is a huge overreaction.
The FDA, which could pull the plug at any time, said in a joint statement with the CDC that it is making the recommendation out of an “abundance of caution.”
But as deadly as the blood clots caused in those having a severe reaction can be, what about all the lives that could be saved by inoculating people against the coronavirus?
President Biden is having his medical experts take the lead. But his predecessor was quick to pounce on the move.
The administration did a “terrible disservice” to people around the world, Donald Trump said, because the vaccine’s excellent reputation “will be permanently challenged.”
Then Trump went political, saying the FDA bureaucracy “has to be controlled,” and suggesting without evidence that the administration might be doing this for political reasons or “maybe because their friends at Pfizer have suggested it.”
But the guy who launched Operation Warp Speed does have one salient point. Millions of people, unfortunately, are either refusing or highly reluctant to get vaccinated. Folks who don’t know their Pfizer from their Moderna may hear about the news second-hand and conclude that all Covid vaccines are dangerous, that you can even die from them. That would be a significant setback to the country’s efforts to reach herd immunity.
Even a “pause” of a week would take hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses out of the program. And it has a double impact because J&J has the only one of the three vaccines that needs only one dose instead of two to be effective.
Anthony Fauci tried to be reassuring, saying the chances of this happening to someone who’s taken the J&J shot are less than 1 in a million (though people should look out for the symptoms). But that seems a hell of a lot more far-fetched than the chances of getting Covid itself.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been somewhat snake-bitten. Less than two weeks ago, 15 million doses were ruined as the company confirmed a subcontractor had contaminated them with the AstraZeneca vaccine at a Baltimore plant. It was a blow to the overall program and a big-time embarrassment to J&J.
The White House virus coordinator, Jeff Zients, said the planned pause “will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan” or the current rate of 3 million daily doses. But no one really knows how long the suspension will last or the potential impact on the vaccination holdouts.
And in states such as Michigan, where new cases are seven times as high as in February, any reduction in shipments is highly concerning.
Given the speed and the sheer magnitude of the virus program, we are lucky there haven’t been more major mishaps. Maybe this will turn out to be a mere footnote, but at the moment, it’s troubling.