White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients and Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday defended the decision by the FDA and the CDC to pause administering the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, saying the federal agencies are following the science.
"We want the agencies to lead with science," Zients told reporters in the White House briefing room of the surprise "pause" of the vaccine recommended by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while they investigate a potential link to very rare blood clots.
Six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed the clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccination. One person died, and another is in critical condition, the FDA said.
Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, noted that close to 7 million people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccination, and the reported problems "are less than one in a million."
He said the pause will allow health officials to determine if there were any unknown common denominators leading to this "rather rare problem," while also making doctors aware of the issue, because the type of clotting linked to the vaccine can be made worse with the use of some traditional treatment.
As for people who've already had the vaccine, "it doesn't really mean anything," Fauci said — but he also suggested people who've had the vaccine within the past two weeks should be on the lookout for symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath and chest discomfort. "Don't get an anxiety reaction," he cautioned.
Asked about complaints from the states that they were caught flat-footed by the morning announcement, Zients said the White House only found out the recommendation was coming Monday night.
"This decision was made by the CDC and FDA. We’re ruled by the science, not any other consideration," he said. Biden and Democrats were frequently critical of former President Donald Trump for exerting pressure over the CDC and the FDA, arguing he was letting politics dictate the response.
Zients said there was enough of a supply of the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines to make up for the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and still hit the administration's vaccination targets.
"We have thought of this as a wartime effort from the beginning, which is why purchased excess supply," he said.
Biden struck a similar optimistic tone when he spoke to reporters at the White House later in the afternoon. "There is enough vaccine, that is basically 100% unquestionable, for every single, solitary American," Biden said.
Fauci said he anticipates that the Johnson & Johnson pause will likely last "days to weeks" and not "weeks to months."
As for concerns the announcement could lead to more vaccine hesitancy, Fauci said it should be reassuring that the federal agencies are keeping their eye out for problems.
"The FDA is internationally known for making sure we have the safest products out there," he said. He also noted that there have been "no red flags" with the Pfizer or the Moderna drugs.