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Pause of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine likely to be lifted by Friday, Fauci says

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on April 14 detailed why there was a call for pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The nationwide pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine is likely to be lifted Friday, according to Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.

In interviews on political talk shows Sunday morning, Fauci said that he expected federal health officials would decide the vaccine’s future in the United States by the end of this week and that he did not anticipate its use would be canceled outright.

“By Friday, we should have an answer as to where we’re going with it,” Fauci said on ABC News’s “This Week.” “I would think that we’re not going to go beyond Friday in the extension of this pause.”

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had on April 13 called for a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six reported cases of rare blood clots in U.S. recipients of the vaccine.

The decision was met with some criticism that officials had overreacted, along with fears that the move could backfire and contribute to vaccine hesitancy. Health officials stressed that the six cases were “extremely rare” — given more than 7 million people had received the Johnson & Johnson shot — but that safety was paramount.

The risk-reward calculus of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, visualized

Fauci predicted the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would return, perhaps accompanied by a warning or some restrictions.

“My estimate is that we will continue to use it in some form. I doubt very seriously if they just cancel it. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Fauci said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press.”

“I do think that there will likely be some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment. I don’t think it’s just going to go back and say, ‘Okay, everything’s fine. Go right back.’ I think it’ll likely say, ‘Okay, we’re going to use it, but be careful under these certain circumstances.’”

What those circumstances might be aren’t clear. The six cases of the blood clots were in women ages 18 and 48. One woman died, while another is in critical condition, officials said.

However, Fauci said there was not enough data to determine whether the suspected adverse reaction affected only women in that age group — which was why federal health officials did not simply call for a limited pause.

“The pause was to take a look, make sure we know all the information we can have within that time frame, and also warn some of the physicians out there who might see people, particularly women, who have this particular adverse event, that they treat them properly,” Fauci said on “This Week.”

Why Biden health officials decided to pause J&J’s coronavirus vaccine

“Oftentimes when you’re dealing with adverse events, you get an indication that something is wrong. Which is what those six cases were: a bit of a red flag. Then when you look more deeply into it, you see other things,” he added. “So if you’re going to pause, you might as well just pause, period, and then get back into it as soon as you possibly can. … But you want to make sure you don’t assume you know everything when actually you don’t you know.”

Fauci also expressed concern that the seven-day average of daily new coronavirus infections in the United States is more than 60,000 and that the spread of more-infectious variants remained a threat as the nation tried to reach herd immunity through vaccinations.

“That’s a place you don’t want to be, and we’ll get out of that place the more and more people get vaccinated,” he said.

By late summer or early fall, he added, the FDA and the CDC will probably decide whether a third booster shot would be required for people who have received the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Fauci said he expects high school students will be vaccinated by the fall school term and elementary schoolchildren will receive vaccine doses by the first quarter of 2022.

Lisa Rein contributed to this report.