The federal government’s call for a hiatus in use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine could last at least a week longer, further complicating efforts by federal and state health officials to postpone appointments and reassure nervous Americans that the vaccine is safe and effective.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent vaccine advisory group, known as the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee, or ACIP, is due to meet a second time since stopping injections next Friday to discuss safety data relating to a small number. cases of blood coagulation in Johnson & Johnson vaccinees. It is not known if the vaccine was responsible for the clots.
The six-hour public meeting could end with a vote, for example, to recommend continuing the hiatus, changing the FDA clearance of the single-dose vaccine, or rescinding the hiatus altogether. The federal government could then act quickly to follow the guidelines.
“We recognize the critical importance of acting quickly. That is why we will have two unscheduled ACIP meetings in a 10 day period, ”CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said at a White House press conference on Friday.
She said the CDC had contacted more than 10,000 providers “to make sure they know what types of cases to look for.”
The committee’s decision was a key part of the federal government’s still largely undefined plan to resolve the hiatus, which FDA’s acting commissioner Dr Janet Woodcock told reporters on Tuesday it would only last “a few days.” . But the expert panel, whose recommendations weigh heavily on state health services and doctors, decided Wednesday to wait for a vote while they take more time to assess a possible link with the rare but serious blood clotting disorder.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, told lawmakers at a hearing Thursday that “I hope we have a decision very soon on whether or not we can get us back on track with this very effective vaccine ”. State health departments have postponed appointments and replaced the two-dose vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – a plan White House officials have cited as a quick way to close the gap.
While Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine represented a fraction of U.S. vaccinations, it was a key tool in the Biden administration’s strategy. The shot can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures for three months, and at one dose, people can go without vaccination all at once. Some public health officials fear the break may reinforce the reluctance. And there are concerns about the risks posed to the global immunization campaign in countries that cannot afford to be special about vaccines.
In the United States, the hiatus had immediate and dire consequences for local authorities, who worked to immunize vulnerable populations with the vaccine: the homeless in Baltimore, residents confined to their homes in the District of Columbia, poor and uninsured in Massachusetts and rural dwellers. in a number of states.
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC on Friday that the city’s comprehensive immunization campaign had not been derailed by the hiatus, but the biggest disruption had been the city’s program for those in confinement. at home, which relied on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine and has stopped for now.
The city estimated there were 23,000 home applicants for the program and said its vaccination teams had so far made 3,600 visits. The effort has intensified and recently vaccinated 1,200 people per week. At each visit, the program allows the elderly person confined to the house to be vaccinated, as well as any other person in the eligible household. Mr de Blasio said he hoped the city would be able to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine again for this population, but otherwise the program would continue with the other licensed vaccines.
About 7.8 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with about 10 million doses currently unused.
Setbacks with the vaccine, including confusion at a Baltimore plant that recently contaminated up to 15 million doses of it, have caused the White House to revise its calculations by predicting when the country will have enough doses to cover every American adult, which President Biden predicted would happen by the end of May.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday there would be enough doses to cover 80% of the adult population at this point, or probably enough for every adult who wants one. She added that there would be enough for 90 percent of the population by the end of July.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Daniel E. Slotnik and Sharon Otterman contributed reporting.