Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

When data linked a potentially fatal blood-clotting disorder to Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J’s) coronavirus vaccine, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention did what they have promised to do, and what they nearly always do in such situations: they advised doctors and pharmacists to temporarily halt use of the vaccine while they investigate the matter.

The pause is expected to last just a few days. The risk of developing this potential side effect is expected to be small relative to the risks associated with the coronavirus for unvaccinated people. Six clotting cases have been reported in the US so far, out of the 6.5-million J&J vaccinations that have been administered. It’s not even clear yet if the condition resulted from the shot. The FDA is expected to clear the company’s vaccine for continued use, possibly with exceptions for people who have a high risk of clotting, and almost certainly with guidance on how to watch for and treat the condition in question.

That such pauses are commonplace in clinical trials, and in post-marketing drug surveillance, did not stop critics from denouncing the FDA and the CDC. In the hours after the announcement on Tuesday morning critics warned that the agencies’ decision would cost lives, increase vaccine hesitancy and sow widespread irreconcilable confusion.

It is fair to consider whether officials had other options. It might have made more sense to proceed with an investigation while continuing to vaccinate — or to at least not cancel existing vaccine appointments, and then to adapt as needed if something more worrisome turned up. It’s hard to say if taking this half-measure would have done a better job of mitigating fears and preserving trust.

The J&J vaccine will almost certainly remain a crucial weapon in a battle all Americans are desperate to bring to a close. The best thing proponents of the vaccine can do is to remember that, and remind everyone else of it in the days ahead. /New York, April 13

New York Times

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