Johnson and Johnson Vaccine Insights -Interview with Dr. Joshua Sharfstein

Insights | April 15, 2021 | by Jill Schumann

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at Johns Hopkins University, joined the LeadingAge Coronavirus Update Call on April 15, 2021. He responded to questions from Ruth Katz and from callers.

Q: Dr. Sharfstein what can you tell us about the pause in the J & J vaccine?

A: This does not mean that it is an unsafe vaccine. The pause will allow for deeper study and to give advice to clinicians who may see this rare syndrome. The rate of these unusual blood clots is higher than would be expected normally and CDC and FDA are saying, “Let’s pause to find out who might be at risk and what we would advise.” This pause is being done out of an abundance of caution.

Q: We understand that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice met, but did not make recommendations…

A: ACIP indicated that they need more information and data, once they receive that they will make recommendations, probably in a few days.

Q: How long is the pause likely to last?

A: Probably from several days to a couple of weeks. In Europe with the AstraZeneca vaccine, countries have taken different pathways – some are continuing use, others are using it only for older people, others have stopped using it. The U.S. will make a decision and explain that decision. It seems likely there may be a recommendation for certain people to use a different vaccine. However, the risks of COVID are so much higher than for vaccine risks, that for most people J and J would be fine. The challenge is that there may be alternate vaccines that pose lower risk for some people. The CDC and FDA take safety seriously. And, they want to make sure clinicians know what to do if they see this incredibly rare phenomenon.

Q: If older adults have received J and J – what would your advice be to them?

A: There is no reason to worry. These complications haven’t been seen after several weeks post-vaccine, and to date, they haven’t been seen among older people.

Q: We know that the J and J vaccine is a single dose, easier to store, and may be useful for hard-to-reach people.

A: Yes, it seems likely that we will be using it again. And, we’ll just need to roll with changes as we gain more knowledge. It is important that we keep our eye on the virus as the adversary.

Q: Let’s talk a minute about issues of vaccine hesitancy and staff. How will this bump in the road affect that?

A: We need to emphasize that the public health agencies are taking safety very seriously and that the benefits of these vaccines are enormous. Vaccines are enabling us to recover as a society and to make freedom more possible. We need to spread that message.

Q: Am I correct in understanding that the federal government has issued recommendations that administration of the J and J vaccine be paused, but has not required that?

A: Yes, that is correct, however, some states are halting administration, so clinicians need to follow their state decisions.