The use of Johnson & Johnson‘s coronavirus vaccine has temporarily been suspended in the United States after federal health agencies recommended a pause while reviewing six instances of a rare blood-clotting disorder that occurred within days of receiving the J&J vaccine. All six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) in combination with low levels of blood platelets occurred among women aged 18 to 48, which is in line with similar cases linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe. The latter is now being used exclusively for people over the age of 60 in several European countries to further limit the small risk of the severe side effect.
In a joint statement published on Tuesday, the CDC and FDA recommended to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of “an abundance of caution” until a review of the cases is completed. “COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously,” the statement explains the recommendation. While most health experts welcomed the pause as a sign that vaccine safety is in fact a top priority, others argued that it would needlessly slow down the vaccine rollout and, more importantly, boost vaccine hesitancy.
As the following chart, based on CDC figures tracked by Our World in Data, shows, the damage to the reputation of COVID vaccines probably weighs heavier than the short-term effect on vaccination speed. So far, 7.2 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the United States, compared to 85.4 million and 99.5 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, respectively. While it needs to be noted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require a second shot as opposed to the other two, it still plays a relatively minor role in the vaccine rollout so far. Moreover, with 43 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available, a brief pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson can probably be compensated.
This chart shows the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in the U.S. by manufacturer.
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