The decision by the FDA and CDC to halt the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine over fears of a rare blot clot side effect is an overreaction with potentially dangerous consequences.
According to the FDA, there were six reported cases of a “rare & severe type of blod clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine.” How rare? Well, there were over 6.8 million doses of the vaccine administered. So that means that fewer than one in a million people have been found to have developed a blood clot.
What’s more, it is unclear that the blood clot was directly caused by the vaccine.
While some may say it’s worth halting the use of the vaccine to investigate further, it’s important to consider the consequences of the decision.
Most immediately, halting the use of Johnson & Johnson will slow U.S. vaccination efforts. Not only was Johnson & Johnson one additional tool in the arsenal, but it also requires only one shot, meaning states can vaccinate twice as many people with the same number of appointments. It means that it’s less of a burden on those who are less eager to get vaccinated. And it means that those who receive the shot are fully vaccinated more quickly, because they don’t have to come back for another appointment three to four weeks later.
Furthermore, by blowing a very rare potential side effect out of proportion, the news is likely to provide more fodder to anti-vaxxers to spread fears about the vaccine to those still on the fence.
It has become all too common during the pandemic for people to argue that a given decision will kill people, but make no mistake, this move will cost lives. Clinical trials found that once it it was fully in effect, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing people from being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19. Specifically, out of about 40,000 people in the clinical trial total (roughly divided between those who received the vaccine and those who received the placebo), seven people receiving the placebo died, compared to zero deaths among those who received the vaccine. So in just that small universe, more people died than the six people who experienced blood clots out of nearly 7 million who have received the vaccine so far.
Thus, millions fewer people getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will mean more people will be vulnerable to getting severely sick and dying of COVID-19. And this doesn’t even account for the likely increase in vaccine hesitancy as a result of this decision, which could cause many more people to avoid not only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but also Moderna and Pfizer.
The FDA claims the decision was being made out of an “abundance of caution.”
After the past year, that’s a phrase I really want to see retired.