Continuing to use Johnson & Johnson's vaccine could save 1,400 lives in the next 6 months, the CDC says

Continuing to use Johnson & Johnson's vaccine could save 1,400 lives in the next 6 months, the CDC says
  • The US has ended its pause of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine rollout.
  • Despite reports of rare blood clots linked to the shot, using it could save 1,400 lives in six months, the CDC found.
  • That number assumes the shot will be given at half the rate at which it was used before the pause.
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US regulators determined last week that the benefits of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine far outweigh the risks.

After a 10-day pause to investigate the shot’s links to rare blood clots, US states were permitted to resume administering J&J’s vaccine on Friday. 

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates how many lives the shot could save in the next six months. According to the CDC model, continuing to administer the J&J vaccine at just half the rate at which it was used in early April could prevent between 580 and 1,400 coronavirus deaths.

Depending on how quickly the virus continues to spread, the vaccine might also prevent between 3,900 and 9,400 hospital admissions and 930 to 2,200 ICU admissions, according to the report.

During the same six-month period — at the same slower rollout pace — the CDC model suggests that about 26 rare blood clot cases could be expected.

The US paused Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine rollout on April 13, following six reports of central venous sinus thrombosis, a rare blood clot that forms in the brain, among women between 18 and 48 who’d received J&J’s shot. The women also reported low levels of platelets (colorless blood cells that help clots form), a condition known as thrombocytopenia. That combination is unusual.

At a meeting on Friday, however, the CDC voted to resume J&J’s vaccine rollout, with the addition of a warning stating that “rare clotting events might occur after vaccination, primarily among women aged 18-49.” The warning also notes that it’s “plausible” the vaccine caused the clots. 

As of Tuesday, the CDC has recorded a total of 17 cases of rare blood clots in combination with low platelet counts following J&J’s shot. That’s out of a group of 8 million people who’ve received the vaccine.

The two latest cases, announced Tuesday, are a man and a woman, both under 60. Of the 15 clot cases observed prior to those two, 13 occurred among women ages 18 to 49, while two occurred among women ages 50 and older. All 15 patients were hospitalized, and three had died as of Wednesday.

In the CDC’s new report, the agency said the data do not justify restricting the shots to less vulnerable groups, such as men or women ages 50 and older.

For every 1 million doses of J&J’s vaccine administered to women between 18 and 49 years old, the CDC model showed, there might be nearly 300 coronavirus-related hospitalizations and six coronavirus-related deaths — but seven clotting cases.

The CDC report also noted that although limiting vaccine use to specific populations could reduce the number of rare blood clots, the move would also “challenge public health implementation, limit personal choice, and disproportionately affect populations with barriers to vaccine access or who have difficulty returning for a second dose.”

J&J’s vaccine is the only single-dose shot authorized in the US, so it’s the easiest to administer. It’s also far easier to store than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, since it can be kept in standard refrigerators rather than freezers. 

If the shot were no longer available, the CDC wrote, “excess COVID-19 cases and deaths could occur.”

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