Covid-19 Vaccine Updates: J&J Vaccine Paused

Dear Rich Lifer,

On Tuesday, the U.S. health authorities recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine due to concerns about blood clots.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made the announcement after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed severe blood clots within one to three weeks of vaccination.

One woman has tragically passed away, and a second is hospitalized in Nebraska.

The agencies reported that 6.8 million doses have been administered in the U.S., and 9 million additional doses have been shipped out across the country. A panel of experts is set to meet Wednesday to review the matter for the CDC, and the FDA will also carry out an investigation.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., made a joint statement, during which they said their decision to pause the use of J&J’s vaccine was “out of an abundance of caution,” and added that “these adverse events appear to be extremely rare.”

U.S. and European health experts continue to emphasize that, for most people, the health benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the risks of getting Covid-19. In fact, right now, the odds are one in a million of developing the rare clotting — if the investigations into the clotting deem this as a confirmed, possible side effect.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has said they are aware of the extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets, and they are working with medical experts and health authorities. They also said they would delay their rollout of the vaccine in Europe, which had been scheduled to begin later this month.

Response to the Pause 

The reaction to the announcement of the pause was immediate financially, medically and politically.

Johnson & Johnson stock immediately dropped 2.1%, and the rest of the market had a mixed response as investors attempted to gauge the impact. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 153 points, or 0.5%, around midday. The S&P 500 added 0.1%, while the Nasdaq Composite was up 0.6%.

The federal government acted quickly to temporarily halt the use of J&J shots by the U.S. military, providers at federally-run sites and CVS and Walgreens — both of which said they would be canceling and rescheduling upcoming appointments.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the FDA, stated that the pause is only expected to last for a few days while scientists with the CDC and FDA conduct their investigation.

If you have recently received the J&J vaccine, you should contact your doctor if you start to experience severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath. Side effects like mild headaches or flu-like symptoms should not be cause for alarm and are harmless side effects.

Federal official’s concerns regarding the blood clot are heightened because “treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered” for blood clots. CDC data shows that in the U.S, 300,000 to 600,000 people a year develop blood clots. However, the particular blood clotting disorder that the few vaccine recipients have developed is known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and is extremely rare.

The FDA and CDC stated, “Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.”

This news may significantly complicate U.S. vaccination efforts at a critical moment when cases are surging, and many Americans are still skeptical about inoculation. The J&J vaccine, specifically, has been counted on to serve more rural and disadvantaged communities because it is easier to store and only requires one shot.

However, the Biden administration remains hopeful that this setback will not derail vaccination efforts in the long term.

Today, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said the pause “will not have a significant impact” and that the Biden administration will still “reach every adult who wants to be vaccinated” by the May 31 target.

He noted that J&J’s vaccine “makes up less than 5% of the recorded shots in arms in the United States to date,” and said the administration is working with federal partners to get people who were scheduled to receive the J&J shot set up with an appointment to receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine instead.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have been increasing production of shots as they gain experience and manufacturing abilities. In fact, a Health and Human Services Department official said the U.S. has an abundant supply of both vaccines.

Vaccinate Rollout Update 

Currently, 189.7 million doses have been administered out of the 237.8 million doses distributed. Over the past week, the average number of doses administered per day has been 3.2 million.

All these doses combine to a total of 22.3% of the population fully vaccinated and 36.4% of the population with at least one dose of the vaccine.

If the current pace of vaccinations continues, almost half the population would have at least one dose by early May and 75% by early summer.

The problem right now is that two of the three vaccines (Moderna and J&J) are only approved for use in people 18 years of age and older. This accounts for only 77% of the population. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved for ages 16 and older, but a shot safe for younger teens and children has not yet been approved.

Herd immunity may not be attainable until this age range is able to receive a safe dose of the vaccine. Thankfully, Pfizer has been testing its vaccine in children aged 12 to 15, and Moderna has been testing its vaccine in those aged 12 to 17.

In March, both companies also began testing on children aged six months to 11 years.

More information will be made available about the safety of the J&J vaccine after the completion of a scientific investigation. Tune into tomorrow as we break down new research regarding how long the current Covid-19 vaccines provide immunity…

To a richer life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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