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U.S. Suspends J&J Covid-19 Vaccine Shipments as States Face a Surplus of Expiring Doses -- Update

06/10/2021 | 01:39pm EDT

By Jared S. Hopkins and Betsy McKay

The U.S. government has halted new shipments of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, according to state and federal health officials, one of several steps federal agencies are taking that could help clear a backlog of unused doses before they expire.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stopped making available the one-dose shot to states, the state and federal health officials said. The stoppage is believed to be temporary, some of these officials said.

Health officials from Maryland, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Michigan, Illinois and other states said they haven't been able to order new supplies of J&J doses in recent weeks. Some also said they have sufficient supply of the vaccine.

"It just hasn't been included in our weekly allocations, from the feds, which means it is not available to order," said Oklahoma State Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed.

The move comes after The U.S. Food and Drug Administration separately extended the shelf life of J&J's vaccine to 4 1/2 months from three months once refrigerated, the drugmaker said Thursday.

A spokeswoman for the Arkansas state health department said it was informed that no doses were available for ordering because of issues related to the manufacturing of the vaccine.

It couldn't be determined why the federal government suspended the shipments, but comes at a time when health officials are pushing for the use of stockpiled J&J doses prior to their expiration.

A J&J spokesman didn't respond to a request for comment on the government's decision to limit availability of its vaccine to states.

Just over half of the approximately 21 million of the J&J doses distributed in the U.S. have been administered, a lower percentage compared with shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., according to the CDC.

Hospital and state officials said they have many J&J doses expiring later this month, partly as an unintended consequence of the U.S.'s decision in April to temporarily suspend administration of J&J doses to assess a rare blood-clot risk.

The pause forced states and providers to cancel large blocks of appointments that were never rescheduled and left a surplus of supply and, in some areas, increased hesitancy over the J&J vaccine's safety.

The J&J vaccine was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February after researchers found it to be effective in a large-scale trial at protecting against symptomatic Covid-19.

While its efficacy was slightly lower than Pfizer and Moderna shots, public-health officials and vaccine experts had high hopes for the shot's role in the vaccine drive -- because it was a single-shot and required fewer cold-chain restrictions.

J&J stores doses frozen until shipment by the government, at which point they are refrigerated. That is when the countdown starts for expiration.

State health officials said they haven't been able to order new doses of the J&J shot since mid-May. The CDC has been restricting orders of the J&J vaccine, the federal health official said.

Maryland last ordered J&J doses several weeks ago and has since been told by the government that the vaccine isn't available, Maryland Department of Health Assistant Secretary Bryan Mroz said in an interview. Federal officials say J&J's shot will become available again but didn't say when that would be, he said.

"We've been using up our inventory in the state," Mr. Mroz. "We definitely have more supply than demand."

Mr. Mroz said that some doses will expire at the end of June and others in July and that the state is working to redistribute some to providers who request them.

States such as Wisconsin and Oklahoma have been asking the federal government for guidance on what to do with expiring doses.

For much of the rollout, states and providers had been instructed by states and the federal government to dispose of unused doses past their expiration date. Recently, some states say they have been getting conflicting information.

Mr. Mroz said in an interview that the CDC on Tuesday recommended the state put aside expiring J&J doses in storage as the agency waited to learn from federal government reviews into whether the shelf life can be extended. But he said the CDC then changed that guidance on Wednesday and suggested expired doses should still be discarded.

Thomas M. Burton and Julie Wernau contributed to this article.

Write to Jared S. Hopkins at jared.hopkins@wsj.com and Betsy McKay at betsy.mckay+1@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

06-10-21 1539ET

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