A vaccination pause that seems senseless and harmful

America’s health bureaucracies have been forced by the pandemic to make dozens of difficult decisions and recommendations. Some of them have been sound and some have been flawed. In some cases, we still don’t know for sure whether the decisions/recommendations were sound or flawed.

I don’t blame these bureaucracies for getting stuff wrong. They were faced with a virus about which very little was known. It was always likely that, even operating in good faith, they would make some erroneous decisions.

But the decision by the FDA and CDC to recommend a pause in the administering of the J&J vaccine seems like an unforced error. According to the joint statement of these two agencies, 6.8 million doses of this vaccine have been administered in the U.S. Six people who have received the vaccine (via a one time shot) have reported experiencing a rare and severe type of blood clot associated with strokes.

That’s less than one person in a million. And as far as I can tell, the clots have not resulted in the death of any of the six people (all women between the ages of 18 and 48) who experienced them after taking the vaccine.

Moreover, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, five out of a million people experience this rare blood clot every year. Thus, one-in-a-million might overstate the extent to which the J&J vaccine has produced the clot.

I don’t understand how the FDA/CDC recommendation can be justified. The effects of the pause will be (1) to slow down the effort to vaccinate all Americans who want to be vaccinated and (2) to cause fewer Americans to want to be vaccinated, due to unjustified fear of serious side effects.

In response to criticism, the FDA says the pause in administering J&J’s vaccine will last “a matter of days,” assuming findings favorable to a resumption. If the pause lasts just a few days, this will mitigate the first effect of the pause. However, it’s still quite possible that people will die due to the delay, especially if the rescheduling of J&J vaccinations produces extra delay.

The second effect — fewer Americans willing to be vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus — will take hold even if the pause is brief. That damage has already been done.

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