Be cautious, don’t panic: Infectious disease doctor on US pausing Johnson and Johnson vaccine

Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines are seen at Northwell Health's South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, New York, U.S., March 3, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo/File Photo

The federal government decided this morning to pause Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, which nearly 7 million people in the U.S. have received. Officials are looking into six cases where women who got the shot developed a serious and rare blood clot. They were between ages 18 and 48. The symptoms occurred within two weeks of getting the vaccine. One woman died. Another is in critical condition. 

Governor Gavin Newsom also announced this morning that California would temporarily stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though it only accounts for about 4% of the state’s current supply.  

Monica Gandhi is an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at UCSF. She tells KCRW, “It’s a little overkill to pause, as opposed to what the EU did with a similar side effect with AstraZeneca, which is just for now restrict it to using among older people. Just because this is such a rare side effect, and we really need to look into these six women.” 

She points out that this side effect happens for one in 1.1 million people. “So we want to be cautious, but not get panicked.” 

This is happening as Johnson & Johnson had a recent manufacturing problem in Baltimore. What does all this mean for getting people vaccinated quickly? People ages 16 and up are now eligible in LA.

“Because of that manufacturing problem in Baltimore, Maryland plant, 15 million doses had to be essentially wasted. … Because of that, this Johnson & Johnson vaccine wasn’t going to be a significant proportion of our supply in California. So I don’t know if it’ll change things that much in our state that much.” 

Nonetheless, this could inflame anti-vaxxers’ argument that vaccines shouldn’t be trusted. “That’s what worries me the most. … Once you get cases low enough, we don’t need everyone to vaccinate. But I don’t want this to worry people, who are already against vaccines, that we’re trying to do something that’s unsafe. I think these vaccines in general are very safe and incredibly effective,” says Gandhi. 

Credits

Guest:

  • Monica Gandhi - infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at UCSF