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Pause of J&J vaccine threatens to slow U.S. pandemic progress amid rising caseload

People walk in to get their coronavirus vaccine at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles in April. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)
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An abrupt call by federal health officials Tuesday to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine threatened to slow progress against the pandemic in the United States, as Michigan battled an alarming spike in cases and new infections trended upward nationwide.

The announcement quickly prompted more than two dozen states and the District of Columbia to temporarily halt injections of the vaccine, the only one of those available that involves a single shot. Health officials said they recommended the move out of “an abundance of caution” while they review six cases of rare and severe blood clots reported in the United States.

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

One of the cases they are examining is a Virginia woman who died in March, health officials confirmed Tuesday.

All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination, the CDC said.

To date, the rate of vaccinations has exceeded predictions made earlier in the year. More than a third of the country has received at least one dose, and average daily injections have topped 3 million. At the same time, average daily infections rose nearly 7 percent nationwide over the past week, driven by more-transmissible new variants and a loosening of restrictions.

Here are some significant developments:

  • President Biden tried to reassure Americans that there will be enough coronavirus vaccine shots for “every single solitary American” when asked by reporters about the recommended pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • About 7.2 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered, and there have been only six reports of blood clots, a rate of about 1 in 1.1 million vaccinations. When distribution resumes, it’s important to remember just how rare these incidents are.
  • More than two dozen states reacted quickly to Tuesday’s announcement by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, pausing injections while officials review the reports of blood clots.
  • Amid the review by U.S. regulators, Johnson & Johnson is pausing the rollout of its vaccine in Europe, saying it made the decision “proactively.”
  • Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, sought to allay Americans’ worries after the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, assuring them that of the 120 million Americans who have received at least one coronavirus vaccine shot, few had issues.
  • Pfizer has ramped up their vaccine production and will deliver 10 percent more doses to the United States by the end of May than previously agreed, the company’s chief executive Albert Bourla said Tuesday.

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