Did the Costs of Pausing the J&J Vaccine Outweigh the Benefits?

James Surowiecki:

This was described at the time as the panel choosing to make no decision about whether the vaccine was safe. But as Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine’s CDC director, said at that first meeting, making no decision was a decision. While the U.S. has plentiful supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, the J&J vaccine — which only requires one shot — has been very valuable in vaccinating people who might have a hard time returning to the same location three or four weeks later to get a shot, including homeless people, people who live in remote locations, and transient workers, as well as college students who may soon be going home from school. So you can’t just substitute Pfizer and Moderna shots for all J&J shots. What this means is that the decision to keep the vaccine pause in place amounted to a decision not to vaccinate lots of people who otherwise would have gotten vaccinated. Some of those people who did not get vaccinated have been or will be infected with Covid, and some of them will be hospitalized, and some will die. That was a concrete and undeniable consequence of the decision to extend the pause.

Ballpark numbers:

At Friday’s meeting, the CDC’s Sara Oliver said that over the next 6 months, the J&J vaccine would be expected to result in 800–3500 fewer ICU admissions, and 600–1400 fewer deaths, while causing 26–45 cases of clotting. If you extrapolate from those numbers, they suggest that if the pause had ended 10 days earlier, somewhere between 33 and 75 lives would have been saved, at the cost of 1–2 cases of clotting.

And those cases of clotting likely would not have been fatal.

Monday, 26 April 2021