The United States can resume use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine immediately, top health regulators said on Friday, ending a 10-day pause to investigate the vaccine’s link to extremely rare but potentially deadly blood clots.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a joint statement that health systems and vaccine recipients would be warned of the risk of a potentially fatal syndrome involving severe blood clots and low platelets.
The agencies made the decision following a meeting by outside advisers to the CDC that recommended the vaccine pause be ended. The decision followed investigations by the agencies into the risks of the vaccine.
“We are no longer recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told a news briefing, adding that the vaccine could be used starting immediately.
Earlier on Friday, the CDC panel voted 10-4 that the J&J COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for use in people 18 years of age and older, the parameters of its current FDA authorization.
“The benefits do clearly outweigh the risk from a population and individual perspective,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a member of the advisory panel and a clinical professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
“The Committee’s recommendation is an essential step toward continuing urgently needed vaccinations in a safe way for millions of people in the U.S.,” J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said in a statement.
‘Extraordinarily rare risk’
The FDA will update the emergency use authorization for the vaccine to include information about the risk and how to recognize and treat the condition, J&J executives told the panel.
“It is an extraordinarily rare risk. A number of vaccines have an extraordinarily rare risk,” said Dr. Paul Offit of the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel.
Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the vaccine should be used with warnings of the risk as it will help advance the vaccination effort.
“Giving people the choice to receive a single-dose vaccine will help get more people vaccinated faster and will better protect some populations, such as those who are homeless or incarcerated,” Moss said by email.
The American Medical Association applauded the decision, saying the data presented at the meeting “clearly demonstrates that the benefits of this approach outweigh the risks, which include becoming infected with COVID-19 and the potential for severe illness or death.”
The European Medicines Agency on Tuesday said the benefits of the shot outweighed its risks and recommended adding a warning about unusual blood clots with low blood platelet counts to the vaccine’s product label. J&J resumed its rollout there.
The regulator said the blood clots in patients who received the J&J vaccine bear close resemblance to 169 cases in Europe reported with the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine.
J&J has faced several setbacks since its shot gained U.S. emergency authorization in February, including drawing scrutiny over production shortfalls. FDA inspectors this week cited a long list of serious cleanliness and safety issues at an Emergent BioSolutions plant making the J&J vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson shares closed up 0.2 %at $165.52.
(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Susan Heavey in Washington, Carl O’Donnell and Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Will Dunham)