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CDC Advisory Committee Recommends Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Resume


Use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine should resume as soon as tomorrow. That's the word this evening from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Reporter Pien Huang has been following the proceedings and joins us now. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: So the pause on the J&J vaccine has been lifted after 11 days. Was this expected?

HUANG: Yes. Earlier in the day, the CDC's independent vaccine advisory committee heard from doctors and CDC analysts about this rare blood clotting issue that they were having with the J&J vaccine and particular cases linked to getting the vaccine. And they ultimately determined that the condition is so rare that the benefits of the J&J vaccine, which only requires one shot, outweighs the risks. Here's CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.


ROCHELLE WALENSKY: CDC, in partnership with FDA, is recommending that administration of the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen vaccine resume. To be clear, we are no longer recommending a pause to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

HUANG: The resumption is effective immediately, and shots could be going into arms as Saturday morning.


WALENSKY: We are pleased to have resolution today and proud of the millions of Americans who have already gotten a COVID-19 vaccine and are fully protected or are on their way to protection. More are rolling up their sleeves every day.

HUANG: The FDA has already updated the instructions for health care providers and information for patients that accompanies the shots.

SHAPIRO: So, Pien, tell us more about this rare side effect, these blood clots. How much is known about it?

HUANG: Well, last week, when federal authorities called for a stop to using the vaccine, it was because there were six cases of women who had developed severe blood clots in the brain, along with low platelet counts. And today, the CDC said there are now 15 confirmed cases and 10 more under review, most for blood clots in the brain, though some are in other parts of the body. And so far, all of these cases have been found in women mostly in their mid- to late 30s. So of those 15 confirmed cases, seven are still hospitalized. Five were discharged. And three have died. So as I mentioned, the rate for getting the severe complications is around two out of a million people, but the risk is higher in younger women. So the condition is still considered to be quite rare, but the group says that women under 50 should be told about their increased risks.

SHAPIRO: And once told, like, what should they do about it? What should they know about it?

HUANG: Yeah, well, what they should know about it is that if they've gotten a J&J shot, the symptoms to watch out for would be a headache or abdominal pain that starts about a week after getting the shot. There can also be stroke-like symptoms. They might be experiencing weakness in one side of the body, loss of focus or consciousness. So health officials say that people who develop any of these symptoms, especially that really bad headache, should seek medical attention right away. And providers should be looking out for this condition, and they should be ordering scans and lab tests to confirm it. And also, they should not treat it with a common blood thinner called heparin, which could make it a lot worse.

So this information will be added by the FDA to the emergency use authorization instructions for the vaccine. And the CDC says they'll also have educational materials for providers and the public to help them understand both the risks and the benefits.

SHAPIRO: Has this 11-day pause affected the overall vaccine distribution in the U.S.?

HUANG: Well, according to the CDC's analysis, it's caused a big drop in people's interest in getting the J&J vaccine specifically. But the survey also found that people's concerns are limited to the J&J vaccine, and they're still very willing to get the Pfizer and Moderna shots, which are the other two vaccines available in the U.S. that have not been associated with this kind of blood clot. So resuming the use of the J&J vaccines is estimated to save hundreds of people from getting hospitalized and dying from COVID over the next six months, and it could be really important for reaching some groups of people that are hard to reach, such as the homebound or those experiencing homelessness.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR health reporter Pien Huang. Thank you.

HUANG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.