The Danger of a ‘Dudes Only’ Vaccine

We still don’t know who’s most at risk of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine blood clots.

The Johnson & Johnson shot is teetering on the precipice of becoming America’s “dudes only” vaccine. On Tuesday, the CDC and FDA advised halting the vaccine’s nationwide rollout to investigate six cases of a rare blood-clotting disorder that’s occurred in people within about two weeks of receiving the vaccine—all of them women under the age of 50. In an emergency meeting convened Wednesday by the CDC, experts raised the possibility of limiting its future use to males, reserving Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, as some have unfortunately put it, for johnsons alone.

That idea, crude though it may be, has something to it. The demographic pattern that’s emerged is striking, and many of the experts I talked with this week told me they suspect that, if the vaccine is ultimately linked to these clots, the relationship will come with a clear-cut sex or gender difference too. (These questions are also being debated with regard to the AstraZeneca vaccine, which contains comparable ingredients and might very rarely cause a similar or identical type of clotting disorder.)

But health officials have strongly cautioned that it’s too early to tell for certain whether a specific subset of the population is at increased risk of this clotting disorder; scientists haven’t even definitively pinpointed the J&J shot as its cause. Prematurely masculinizing the J&J vaccine could not only reinforce biases that compromise health care, but also run counter to one of the most important goals of the ongoing pause: identifying what factors, if any, do contribute to these unusual clots, and protecting the people they affect.

 

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