Washington — Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, said Sunday he believes there will be a decision over whether to end the pause on the use ofby Friday.
"A decision almost certainly will be made by Friday," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview on "Face the Nation." "I don't really anticipate that they're going to want to stretch it out a bit longer, in one way or the other, make a decision about J&J. I don't know what that's going to be, but thinking about what the possibilities are, one of the possibilities would be to bring them back, but to do it with some form of restriction or some form of warning. But I believe by Friday we're going to know the answer to that."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jointly recommended last week a temporary "pause" on the use of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine after six women reported a rare blood-clotting disorder. The women, between the ages of 18 and 48, experienced symptoms six to 13 days after receiving Johnson & Johnson's shot.
Federal officials including Fauci stressed the adverse effects were incredibly rare, but said those who have received Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be alert to symptoms such as severe headaches, some difficulty in movement, chest discomfort and difficulty breathing.
Johnson & Johnson's vaccine represented a small fraction of the roughly 190 million doses that had been administered when U.S. health agencies called for the pause last week. The White House said the temporary hold was not expected to impact President Biden's vaccine plan, as the government secured enough doses of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to maintain the pace of vaccinations.
While a CDC advisory committee convened last Wednesday to discuss the halt of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, its members did not vote on whether the pause should be extended, citing insufficient data to make final recommendations.
Fauci said there could be gender-based restrictions on the use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 shot, but urged caution because the illnesses have so far only been seen in six people out of millions of recipients. He also noted there have been reported cases of rare blood clots with AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine in the European Union and the United Kingdom that have not been restricted to women.
"That's one of the points we want to be careful," he said. "So you don't want to jump ahead of yourself and decide you know the total spectrum of this, which is one of the reasons why they paused and why hopefully by Friday we'll know that."
The pause on Johnson & Johnson's vaccine has raised concerns that it could lead to more vaccine hesitancy, but Fauci stressed each of the three vaccines approved by the FDA — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are highly efficacious.
"The one thing we should emphasize when you're dealing with safety, people should not extrapolate a pause with one vaccine to the other vaccines," he said. "For example, the same surveillance system that picked up the six women in the J&J was the same surveillance system that the CDC and the FDA uses with the Moderna product and with the Pfizer product. And thus far, there have been no red flags of that, even though, you know, tens and tens and tens of millions of people have been vaccinated with those vaccines. So one of the things you can take away from all of this is that when the surveillance system, the CDC and the FDA say that something is safe, you can be sure that it's safe."
The U.S. has been administering between 3 million and 4 million doses of coronavirus vaccines daily, and nearly 206 million shots have been given so far. Nearly 40% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the CDC.
To keep the infection rate low, Fauci said it's crucial to continue the current rate of vaccinations, adding that mitigation measures should not be eased right now, as the U.S. is still reporting between 60,000 and 70,000 new infections per day.
"It would really, I think, not be prudent at all to declare victory prematurely and pull back," he said. "Without a doubt, as we continue every single day to get more and more people vaccinated, that rate will go down if we don't give the virus the opportunity to essentially surge."
Fauci said if Americans "hang in there a bit longer, I believe we will be OK."
"We will reach the point where we will be able to get back to doing things the way we did before," he said. "But we're going to have to make sure that we get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can."
Fauci predicted Americans will know by the end of the summer whether they will need a booster shot to protect against new coronavirus strains.