By: Chloe Reidy
This spring, hope for ending the pandemic has increased as new, highly effective vaccines are being more widely distributed. In the United States, the vaccines granted emergency use authorization from the FDA are made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was marked to be particularly helpful in reaching rural communities far from vaccine sights, college students who move in-between states, and residents in poorer countries. This is because it only requires one dose and can be stored at higher temperatures than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
However, supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine plummeted below expected number after about 15 million doses of the vaccine were contaminated at a Baltimore production site in mid April. Even though only 15 million were contaminated, more than 60 million doses of the vaccine were also stopped from being distributed until the FDA authorizes the plant. The plant run by Emergent BioSolutions mixed up ingredients from the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccine, a vaccine that is being distributed throughout much of Europe and the rest of the world but has yet to be approved in the United States. The Biden Administration has placed Johnson & Johnson in charge of the vaccine production plant and the plant will no longer produce AstraZeneca vaccines, instead the plant will focus solely on the one-dose, American vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine faced more setbacks when distribution of the vaccine in the United States was paused after six American recipients experienced a rare blood-clotting disorder. Those affected were all women under 50 years old, one of whom died from the clotting. The clots occurred in the brain in combination with low platelet counts. The most common symptom among those affected was a consistent headache.
A similar issue was found in the AstraZeneca vaccine. Among more than 34 million doses of the vaccine, 222 recipients had blood clots with low platelet counts. Once again, those affected were primarily younger women. Response to clotting in the AstraZeneca vaccine varied as Denmark stopped distribution of the vaccine entirely and the UK offered an alternative vaccine to those under 30.
The CDC and FDA have now decided to resume distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and will provide a warning for the very rare blood clots. The warnings will come in the form of sheets handed to everyone who receives the vaccine. Even with increased publicity of the clotting, only an additional nine cases have been identified. So, the risk of having a negative outcome after contracting COVID is much greater than the risk of getting the blood clotting disorder.
There are now concerns that pausing distribution of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be more harmful than the clotting itself, due to a potential increase in vaccine hesitancy.