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Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 shot remains suspended by Feds

Written By | Apr 15, 2021
Johnson and Johnson, Covid-19 shot

A vaccine for immunization against COVID-19, developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. Image via US National Guard, US government image in the public domain.

WASHINGTON – It’s already old news that the administration of Johnson and Johnson’s (NYSE:JNJ) Covid-19 shot was temporarily halted by the FDA earlier this week. In a short Thursday announcement, the FDA punted on its decision again, leaving current use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in doubt. At least for the moment. In case you missed the story, the following tweet plus a play-by-play via CNBC should catch you up.

More news on the J&J Covid-19 shot

“The Food and Drug Administration asked states on Tuesday to temporarily halt using Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine ‘out of an abundance of caution’ after six women in the U.S. developed a rare blood-clotting disorder that left one woman dead and another in critical condition.

“‘Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare,’ the FDA said in a joint statement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously.’

“All six cases occurred in women ages 18 to 48, with symptoms developing six to 13 days after they received the shot. Doctors typically treat that type of blood clot with heparin, but health regulators noted that could be dangerous in this case and recommended a different treatment.

“J&J said in a statement that ‘no clear causal relationship’ has been identified between the blood clots and the vaccine, adding it is working closely with regulators to assess the data.

“People who got the J&J vaccine more than a month ago are at very low risk for developing the blood clots, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, told reporters on a conference call Tuesday.’”

Even more on the vaccine from the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal (no link; behind paywall) reported further details from the US CDC on the six victims of a serious blood clotting condition. (Bold text by this writer.)

“No obvious risk factors stood out among the six women, the CDC’s Dr. Shimabukuro said. All of the patients are white. Whites have received about 64% of the J&J vaccines administered, and men and women ages 18 to 49 years have received 47% of the shots.

“One of the women used estrogen or progesterone. None was pregnant or had recently given birth. Three were defined as obese, and one each had hypothyroidism, hypertension, and asthma. None was known to have coagulation disorders, the CDC said.

“The patients all initially developed vague symptoms six to 13 days after vaccination. Five had headaches, and one a backache and bruising. Some also had abdominal pain, chills and nausea, and neurological symptoms. All six were diagnosed with blood clots in vessels draining blood from the brain; three also had clots in vessels elsewhere in the body, such as in vessels that drain the intestines.

“‘We have clots forming in large vessels in the presence of low platelets,” Dr. Shimabukuro said. “It’s kind of a paradox here.’”

Apparently, the FDA, which adjourned its own meeting on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine without making a recommendation, decided to punt on its “final decision” for as long as two weeks. However, the CDC could decide to resume the use of the vaccine earlier.

What’s the situation with the other Covid-19 vaccines?

Numerous additional reports indicate that the Astra-Zeneca Covid-19 shot, suspended in the Eurozone due to similar blood-clotting issues in a tiny percentage of patients. Structurally, the Astra-Zeneca shot is similar to the J&J Covid-19 shot, and both use a different biological mechanism to spur an effectively anti-Covid-19 response in those who get the shot.

But numerous reports also indicate that a small number of individuals receiving the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use a different biological methodology, have also encountered issues similar to patients who received either the J&J or Astra-Zeneca shots.

We’d note here that the small subgroup of women encountering a dangerous reaction to J&J’s vaccine had some common issues. All were white, half were obese, and one each suffered from known adverse medical conditions.

As far as the FDA and the CDC are concerned, “an abundance of caution” in this situation is probably the right decision. But keeping the Johnson and Johnson vaccine out of circulation for any lengthy period of time, in this writer’s opinion, would be the height of irresponsibility.

Nearly any medical treatment, over time, can cause occasional serious and even fatal reactions in a small number of individuals. Life itself is not without risk. No treatment is perfect. But one like J&J’s, which appears to be highly effective in preventing Covid-19 infections, at least for a certain period of time, shouldn’t be pulled, at least not for those unaffected by the noted medical issues.

Is there an investment opportunity in Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) stock?

I might be a bit prejudiced here. I have a tiny investment in JNJ’s rather expensive (in the sense of $ per share) stock. And, logically, the stock took a nasty hit after the government’s pause in the use of the J&J vaccine. As of today, it’s already recovered most of its value.

But perhaps even more importantly, both I and my esteemed spouse (she, her) got the J&J / Janssen vaccine on the first Saturday of March. Results? Zero reaction on my part, a bit of unusual fatigue for her, lasting only an afternoon. Much to the chagrin of doctrinaire leftists, we’re still here. At least as of today.

JNJ shares might experience a decent bounce if and when the government stops wringing its hands about the company’s Covid-19 shot. AND, hopefully, if and when the Feds come up with a logical advisory procedure for women experiencing certain risk factors that could lead to serious adverse blood clotting issues. (One alternate procedure for dealing with this issue is already available, BTW.)

On the other hand, if the Feds outright ban the Johnson and Johnson vaccine – a dubious solution at best – the stock could tank. But, as the fairly crass investor in me realizes, a crash-and-burn reaction in JNJ stock could be the buy of the decade. Why? Simple.

Johnson and Johnson is a huge company

J&J is reportedly selling the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis. Given the sheer size of this company — long part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 30 very big company stocks — means that whatever the fate of its vaccine, it won’t damage J&J’s bottom line at all. Or only fractionally at worst. Bottom line: Investors should always learn about a company before investing in it.

Back in the early 1980s when I was an actual stockbroker, the almost legendary Tylenol poisoning disaster suddenly hit the headlines. JNJ shares took a horrifying header on the news. I tried to get many of my investors interested in picking up some JNJ shares, but no one would touch it. (The fear factor among small investors always remains high.) But J&J’s brave, logical, compassionate and robust response to this unfolding tragedy saved its product, its reputation and its over-all business. This pivotal incident involving the sabotage of a company’s product and the corporate reaction remains a PR classic in many college business programs.

The current Covid-19 issue with the company’s Covid-19 vaccine is likely not of this magnitude. Meaning that, if panic sellers send JNJ shares off the cliff, it could offer a tremendous buying opportunity. But I suspect this presents an unlikely scenario. (And be sure to do your own due diligence before you consider any investment.)

As for Mr Market…

Meanwhile, Mr Market remains on a record-breaking roll as we draw closer to Thursday’s 4 p.m. ET closing bell. The Dow, the S&P 500 and the tech-heavy NASDAQ are all likely to close up 1% on the day, which, at current levels, would put the Dow at or near its all-time high (circa 34,000), and the S&P at or near its best intraday high. Which would be just fine for the bulls. (UPDATE: The Dow closed at 34035.99 – up 305.10 on the day (+ 0.90%) for a new record high. The S&P 500 and the NASDAQ also closed up, both over 1% on the day.

Ah, yes, but Friday is another day. So we’ll just wait and see what hits the headlines next in this incredibly headline-sensitive 2021 market.


Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17