The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices decided there was not adequate information to change again recommend use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The committee’s decision comes the day after the CDC and Food and Drug Administration recommended that J&J injections be paused after reports of rare, but serious types of blood clots in six patients among the 6.8 million people who had received the J&J vaccine in the United States.
A member of the committee, Beth Bell, MD, said: “I do not want to be sending a message that there is some huge concern here on a different order of magnitude than any other vaccine safety signals that we evaluate. And I don’t want to send a message that there is something fundamentally wrong with the vaccine because that also I don’t agree with.”
At the end of the 4-hour meeting, ACIP members decided to call a meeting in 1 or 2 weeks and evaluate more safety data, specifically reports of people who have received the J&J vaccine in the past 2 weeks.
Some, however, pointed out that delaying a decision could have substantial consequences as well in terms of unused vaccine doses and public confidence.
Committee member Camiile Kotton, MD, described the pause as “devastating.”
“Putting this vaccine on pause for those of us that are frontline health care workers has really been devastating,” she said. “I agree in general that we don’t have enough data to make a decision at this time but we were planning on using this vaccine in the state of Massachusetts for people who were homebound and otherwise not able to get a vaccine. We were planning on using it for our vulnerable inpatient population often with many comorbidities and at high risk for disease but haven’t been able to get vaccinated otherwise.”
Pausing the one-and-done vaccine that doesn’t have the significant refrigeration requirements of the others “is a significant loss,” she said.
What is known, not known
Sara Oliver, MD, who leads the COVID-19 Vaccines ACIP Work Group, summarized what is known and unknown about the blood clots.
Among the six cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System after the J&J shot, all were women aged 18-48 years and all developed the clots 6-13 days after receiving the vaccine.
No cases of these clots have been reported from either the Pfizer or Moderna shots, she noted.
In the United States, the two mRNA vaccine alternatives – the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines – are available “and based on current projections supply of both vaccines are expected to be relatively stable in the near future,” she said.
She said 14 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna are expected each week in the United States and J&J vaccines makes up less than 5% of vaccines administered in the country.
Approximately 13 million J&J doses are available to order or are already at administration sites, she said.
But much more is unknown, she said.
“There may be more cases identified in the coming days to weeks,” Dr. Oliver said, referring back to the average time from vaccination to symptom onset.
Scott Ratzan, MD, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives and executive director of Business Partners to CONVINCE (BP2C), a global network of employers that promotes COVID-19 vaccination among employees, suppliers, and customers, applauded ACIP’s delay on making a decision.
Dr. Ratzan, who watched the deliberations online, said in an interview the decision “shows an admirable abundance of caution in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “the pause also worsens the existing and pervasive vaccine hesitancy issue.
“We need a rational strategy regarding who should or should not get the J&J/Janssen vaccine since these rare adverse events appear to affect a particular group of people, females aged 18-48. It is essential that we build vaccine confidence and retain the option of using this vaccine for people who are not in this risk group.”
He pointed out there are safety red flags with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
“We should feel reassured about the process of ensuring vaccine safety as the FDA and CDC have quickly addressed risk and shared the data transparently of the J&J vaccine and taken appropriate action,” he said.
ACIP’s executive secretary, Amanda Cohn, MD, said the date for the next meeting would be set by April 16.
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.