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CDC panel recommends Pfizer, Moderna vaccines over J&J shot

Until now, the U.S. has treated all three COVID-19 vaccines available to Americans as an equal choice.

WASHINGTON — Most Americans should be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead of the Johnson & Johnson shot that can cause rare but serious blood clots, U.S. health advisers recommended Thursday.

The strange clotting problem has caused nine confirmed deaths after J&J vaccinations — while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines don’t come with that risk and also appear to be more effective, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

It’s an unusual move and the CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, must decide whether to accept the panel’s advice.

Until now the U.S. has treated all three COVID-19 vaccines available to Americans as an equal choice, since large studies found they all offered strong protection and early supplies were limited. J&J’s vaccine initially was welcomed as a single-dose option that could be especially important for hard-to-reach groups like homeless people who might not get the needed second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna options.

But the CDC’s advisers said Thursday that it was time to recognize a lot has changed since vaccines began rolling out a year ago. More than 200 million Americans are considered fully vaccinated, including about 16 million who got the J&J shot.

In a statement, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky encouraged anybody who has not already done so to get vaccinated and get a booster shot. 

“We have made important strides in the year since the COVID-19 vaccination program started," Walensky said. "Today’s updated recommendation emphasizes CDC’s commitment to provide real-time scientific information to the American public. I continue to encourage all Americans to get vaccinated and boosted.”

A strange clotting problem prompted the U.S. to temporarily halt the single-dose J&J shots last April while scientists investigated. Eventually regulators decided the benefits of a one-and-done vaccine outweighed what was considered a very rare risk -- as long as recipients were warned.

While it’s still rare, the Food and Drug Administration told health care providers this week that more cases have occurred since the spring. They occur most in women between 30 and 49 -- about once for every 100,000 doses administered, the FDA said.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this March 3, 2021 file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y.

Overall, the government has confirmed 54 clot cases in both women and men, and nine deaths that included two men, Dr. Isaac See of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. He said two additional deaths are suspected.

COVID-19 itself can cause potentially deadly blood clots. But the suspect culprit for the vaccine-related kind is a rogue immune response linked to both the J&J shot and a COVID-19 vaccine made by AstraZeneca. Both of those vaccines are made similarly, using a cold virus known as an adenovirus, although AstraZeneca's shot is not used in the U.S.

The FDA this week warned that another dose of the J&J vaccine shouldn't be given to anyone who developed a clot following either a J&J or AstraZeneca shot.

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