Johnson & Johnson vaccine 'pause' creates ethical dilemma as virus surges

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As COVID hospitalizations continue to climb in Illinois, getting more people vaccinated is urgent. That's why some medical ethicists are calling the FDA and CDC's move to put the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on pause a mistake.

"Taking the opportunity to be vaccinated away from patients when we are still in the middle of a pandemic and thousands of people are being hospitalized and dying every day is not right from a medical ethical perspective," said Dr. William Parker, UChicago Medicine Medical Ethicist.

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Parker says the risk of the virus outweighs the risk of very rare, adverse side effects. Out of 6.8 million doses administered in the U.S, federal regulators are investigating if the J & J vaccine caused a rare but potentially deadly blood clot found in six women ages 18-48. The clots developed within two weeks of getting the shot.

"We know if the risk is real it's incredibly small and people can factor that in a make their own decision," Parker said.

Parker said while he fully supports the FDA and CDC investigation into the vaccine, he says the decision to take the single-dose shot should be up to patients and their doctors. But state and Illinois' local health departments have halted the vaccine until federal regulators make a decision, though the "pause" is a recommendation, not a mandate.

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Dr. Richard Novak, who conducted J & J trials in Chicago, said the blood clots reported are very different and rare compared to your average blood clot.

To help the city of Chicago make up for the loss, Pritzker is reallocating 50,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer from the state supply to the city. The state said it is not stockpiling vaccine, it is only shifting doses to Chicago from counties that don't need so much vaccine.

The Biden administration promises there is enough Moderna and Pfizer to make up for the J & J loss, but, University of Chicago Medical Ethicist Dr. William Parker said time is ticking as the virus continues to surge in some states.

While Parker supports an investigation into the six cases, he said it can continue while getting J & J shots in arms.

"We know if the risk is real, it's incredibly small and people can factor that in and make the decision on their own," Parker said.

The FDA and CDC are expected to make a decision about pausing or unpausing the J & J vaccine in a few days.
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