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Will Blood Clot Issues Make Johnson & Johnson's COVID Vaccine a Loser?

By Keith Speights and Brian Orelli, PhD - Apr 21, 2021 at 6:01AM

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The healthcare giant also faces another challenge for its vaccine over the long term.

Concerns about an extremely rare blood-clotting issue have sidelined Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ 0.09%) COVID-19 vaccine for now. An advisory committee is scheduled to meet again on Friday, April 23, to review the data for reported cases of blood clots. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on April 14, 2021, Motley Fool contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli whether or not this possible side effect could make Johnson & Johnson's vaccine a loser over the longer term.

Keith Speights: Yesterday, here's the big story, the FDA and CDC jointly decided to recommend pausing the use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. They did this because of concerns about potential blood clots that could be caused by the vaccine. There's an advisory committee meeting today to review this situation, review the data and try to determine what's the best route forward. Brian, how serious is this issue first of all, and second of all, could it ultimately make Johnson & Johnson a longer-term loser in the COVID vaccine market?

Brian Orelli: We'll have to see what comes of the CDC meeting. It seems like it's probably the same issue that AstraZeneca (AZN 1.50%) is having with blood clots, since they use the same basic technology. Maybe it's less frequent. Perhaps that's because it's only one dose.

Right now, It sounds like the cases [are] about one in a million in the U.S. My guess is that rate is probably going to go up as you start looking through things. Not every side effect is actually reported to CDC or the FDA. So I think the cases might actually end up being higher than one in a million.

But I think though, for people who are most susceptible to having complications from COVID-19, this rate is way lower than that. So I think that the FDA and the CDC are most likely going to leave it on the market. But they may do something like what the EMA did for AstraZeneca, which is that they said, "For younger people, let's give them a different vaccine because it doesn't make sense."

Certainly, Johnson & Johnson, in terms of the actual company and how it could affect them, Johnson & Johnson's one dose regimen is helpful, especially in rural areas. In terms of the bigger picture, I don't know if it's really that big of a deal. They're not making a profit from their vaccine during the pandemic. And I think there's probably less opportunity in the variant booster market for Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca just because of the way their vaccine is designed and is delivered via virus, and we're going to develop the antibodies to that virus. So I think that booster shots are going to become less and less useful for that technology than compared to the mRNA technology.

Speights: It sounds like, Brian, you're saying Johnson & Johnson might not be one of the top players over the long run in this vaccine market anyway, and that this issue might not even be a factor in that, right?

Orelli: Right, yeah. I mean, I think that this would affect them if they were going to be a big player, I would say this is definitely a negative. But since they're not trying to make a profit off of the vaccine right now, and they probably weren't going to be a big player later, I think that it's not that big of a deal for them.

Speights: Just out of curiosity, Brian, I know there's some controversy in the scientific community about whether or not this vaccine should've been paused. What do you think? Was is it a smart move or do you think it was maybe overdone?

Orelli: I think they are trying to give the perception that they're doing as much as possible to keep people safe as possible, and so I think that helps. I think even that helps in the long run.

I don't think it probably needed to happen, but I think the perception of "we're trying to keep people safe as possible" -- that helps in the long run in terms of making people feel like the vaccines that are available and are given at the right age group or whatever are safe.

I think pausing it, it's not going to be that long, I mean, a couple of days, probably. The EMA did the same thing, they are actually waiting till next week to make their decision. But they didn't quite pause it, but Johnson & Johnson had already said they're going to do a slow rollout in the EU, and so I think the European regulators have said, "be careful," basically, and they are going to make a decision next week. I think that they took a similar stance -- maybe not a complete pause, but in effect the same thing. I think the result is going to be that people have more confidence in the vaccines that are available.

Speights: I hope you're right. I do hope that this does not undermine the American public's confidence in vaccines in general, and COVID vaccines particularly. I think you're right. This is going to be a very short pause. I think the FDA acting commissioner even said that this review will be a matter of days. I would expect probably next week, this Johnson & Johnson vaccine is going to be available again.

Orelli: I think that's right, although we'll have to see the results of the meeting today.

Speights: Exactly.

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