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US FDA updates warning label for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine about rare neurological disorder

US FDA updates warning label for Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine about rare neurological disorder

FILE PHOTO: Boxes of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the McKesson Corporation, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Shepherdsville, US on Mar 1, 2021. (Timothy D Easley/Pool via Reuters)

WASHINGTON: The US Food and Drug Administration updated its warning labels on Monday (Jul 12) for the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine to include information about an observed "increased risk" of a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

The news is a further blow for the company, which was granted an emergency use authorisation for its shot in February but has played a minor role in America's coronavirus immunisation campaign.

Based on analysis of a federal vaccine safety monitoring system, officials have identified 100 preliminary reports of GBS after about 12.5 million doses administered, people familiar with the matter said.

Of these reports, 95 of them were serious and required hospitalisation. There was one reported death.

GBS is a neurological disorder in which the body's immune system damages nerve cells, causing muscle weakness or, in the most severe cases, paralysis.

It affects an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 people each year in the United States, and most go on to recover.

READ: Johnson & Johnson says its COVID-19 vaccine shows strong activity against Delta variant

The new warning label for caregivers and recipients says in most people, symptoms began within 42 days of receiving the vaccine, and "the chance of having this occur is very low".

People should seek medical attention right away if they experience weakness or tingling sensations, especially in the legs or arms, that worsen or spread to other parts of the body.

Difficulty walking, difficulty with facial movements including speaking, chewing or swallowing, double vision or an inability to move the eyes, and loss of bladder or bowel function are also reasons to seek urgent care.

While the FDA continues to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in vaccine safety surveillance, it "continues to find the known and potential benefits clearly outweigh the known and potential risks", sources said.


GBS has also been observed at an increased rate with certain vaccines, including some seasonal influenza vaccines and a vaccine to prevent shingles.

But so far, no similar signal has been identified with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines.

READ: US FDA asks J&J to discard millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses

The J&J vaccine has suffered major production issues, and a Baltimore plant responsible for its manufacture has been shut for three months based on contamination issues.

The shot was also subject to a safety pause in April after a heightened risk was identified involving a rare form of clotting, mostly in younger women.

The pause was lifted after it was determined that the danger was remote and the benefits still greatly outweighed the risks, but the episode left a lasting drop in demand.

READ: Booster may be needed for those with Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shot as Delta variant spreads

The news comes as demand for COVID-19 vaccines in the United States continues to decrease, with only about 430,000 shots being administered a day. The peak seven-day-average was about 3.5 million, back in April.

Cases are rising rapidly in under-vaccinated states in the Midwest and South, with the highly contagious Delta variant now dominant.

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Source: AFP/lk


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