Federal health officials are investigating “a handful” of new, unconfirmed reports released after a statewide hiatus in injections by Johnson & Johnson, to see if there might be cases of a rare, serious bleeding disorder that caused the hiatus for disease control and prevention said Monday. It is still unclear whether the vaccine was responsible for the original few cases.
“Right now we’re encouraged that it hasn’t been an overwhelming number of cases, but we’ll look and see what happened,” said the director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, at a White House press conference on the pandemic.
Last week, federal health officials said they wanted vaccine recipients and medical providers to be informed of the original cases and to report any incidents of serious side effects to the shots. Health officials called for the break after six women, ages 18 to 48, developed the bleeding disorder within one to three weeks of Johnson & Johnson injections. One died and a second remained in the hospital in critical condition as of last week.
Two more cases were added to the list on Wednesday: a seventh woman and a man who participated in the Johnson & Johnson clinical trial. Seven of the eight recipients had blood clots in their brains. The clotting disorder appeared to be combined with low levels of platelets, blood cells that typically prevent clotting. The cases were reported either to the CDC database or directly to Johnson & Johnson.
Dr. Walensky said Monday that officials are following up the newer reports “and checking that they actually reflect a true case.” Officials will present their findings to a meeting of the CDC advisory committee on Friday, she said. The committee’s experts could recommend canceling, changing, or reducing the use of the vaccine.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a White House medical advisor, said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that he seriously doubts the vaccine will be permanently withdrawn. But he said, “I think there will likely be some kind of warning or restriction or risk assessment.”
Experts are trying to determine if the rare bleeding disorder is actually related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The investigation follows action by European regulators who concluded that another vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and based on similar technology, may be linked to a rare coagulation disorder.