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White House Covid-19 task force coordinator Jeff Zeints said a “pause” in Johnson & Johnson vaccine administration would not affect national vaccine distribution, despite that some officials expected to rely on the one-shot vaccine in rural and isolated communities.
“We have enough to continue the current pace of about 3 million shots per day, 200 million shots by [Joe Biden’s] 100th day in office,” Zeints said in the White House briefing room.
He later added: “We have enough supply of Moderna and Pfizer… to head toward the Fourth of July we’ve talked about as a country.”
Six cases of blood clots and low platelet counts in women between 18 and 48 caused the CDC and FDA to recommend states pause administration of the vaccine while potential links between the vaccine and very rare syndrome are investigated. More than 6 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses have been administered in the US.
Officials have said there are similarities between the syndrome being investigated and those associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and Australia. The AstraZeneca vaccine is not available in the US. Both vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca share a vaccine technology called an “viral vector”. If a link was established, the syndrome would still be exceedingly rare, affecting less than one in one million people vaccinated.
Health authorities said it was also important to pause the administration and announce it to the public because of the treatment needed for patients who may be suffering from such clots. Standard treatment for blood clots uses heparin, a blood thinner. In this syndrome, officials said heparin could be “dangerous” and make the syndrome worse.
“When individuals, particularly younger women, come into a physician with a thrombotic phenomenon, we want to alert physicians to take a history of a recent vaccination,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical advisor. “That would be important.”
The White House had “no involvement” in the announcement about a “pause” in administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the US. Zeints said the administration is “ruled by science,” and would wait for health officials’ investigation.
As to whether the very rare potential side effect could increase vaccine hesitancy, particularly in rural areas where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was expected to be deployed, Zeints and Fauci said the pause represents how seriously the FDA takes patient safety.
“Hesitancy amongst a group of people is a challenge,” said Zeints. “The FDA acting the way they did today shows they are indeed the gold standard, and I think that should reassure the American public they are very diligent.”
Flu-like side effects in the days immediately following vaccine administration are common established side effects, and would typically resolve within a few days. In all six cases, the blood clotting events occurred between six and 13 days after any of the patients received a vaccine.
Symptoms of the clotting syndrome include severe headache, shortness of breath, abdominal and leg pain. People experiencing such symptoms roughly one to three weeks after receiving the vaccine should seek medical attention. People who received the vaccine more than one month ago are at “very low” risk for complications.