National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Dr. Francis Collins praised federal health officials Thursday for their handling of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine pause, telling “Your World”: “I think they’re doing it exactly right.” 

COLLINS: I hope people will be reassured to see that we have a system in place in the United States to watch for even extremely rare events, so we know they’re happening and we can look closely at the evidence. In this case, [we] put a pause on administration of the vaccines until we can understand who’s at risk. 

We don’t, at the present time, know that answer right now. It’s primarily women, but not exclusively women. It seems to be something that happens about a week or two weeks after you’ve had your immunization. It’s clearly caused by the generation of a strange autoantibody, an autoimmune response that causes the platelets in your blood to begin to be very sticky. It’s platelets that cause clots. 

So we think we understand this in terms of the mechanism. We don’t understand what triggers it. We also know how to treat it and that’s a reason to be public about this,so that all the clinicians, the doctors out there, should they encounter another person who’s had this vaccine in the last week or two who show up with these symptoms, they know what to do.

People that have had this vaccine in the last week or so, which includes my 21-year-old granddaughter, people are interested in knowing what we should be doing that’s different. This is sort of a million to one rare event. If you compare the risks of what this vaccine might mean compared to the risk of actually getting COVID-19 and getting infected, there’s just no comparison in terms of the likelihood of a really bad outcome. We know this virus has killed over 560,000 people. So even with this identification of trouble, people should be reassured we’re on the right path.

Let me say clearly, the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, which uses a different technology than J&J, there is no evidence now, with close to 200 million doses administered, that those cause any of these blood clotting rare conditions. So people who are lined up to get immunized should be reassured. If you are getting the J&J vaccine, efforts will be made to get you scheduled instead for the other vaccines that are still known to be safe and effective. So I just want everybody to sort of take a breath. The sky is not falling. The story is still the same. If we want to get through this terrible pandemic, we need to move as quickly as possible to get as many people immunized as possible and we know how we can do that. So let’s stay the course.

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