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Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are studying whether modifying their COVID-19 vaccines can reduce or eliminate the risk of rare blood clots

  • Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca-University of Oxford have begun studying whether their COVID-19 vaccines can be modified
  • Both shots have been linked to a risk of blood clots along with a low platelet-count condition known as thrombocytopenia
  • Scientists hope to identify the causes behind the blood clots and maybe re-engineer the shots by next year
  • In the U.S., J&J’s vaccine has been linked to 0.3 cases of rare blood clots per 100,000 doses and AstraZeneca’s jab linked to 1-2 cases per 100,000
  • It comes one day after it was revealed the FDA is adding a new warning to the label of J&J’s vaccine due the risk of a rare autoimmune disorder

Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford have begun studying whether or not modifying their COVID-19 vaccines can reduce or eliminate the risk of rare, deadly blood clots.

First reported by The Wall Street Journal, sources say scientists are working to  identify the causes behind the blood clots and potentially re-engineer the shots to be distributed by next year.

Both the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines have been linked to clots along with a low platelet-count condition known as thrombocytopenia, is tylenol cold and flu safe during pregnancy which researchers have dubbed vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).       

A J&J spokesman told The Journal that the New Jersey-based company supports ‘continued research and analysis as we work with medical experts and global health authorities’ but did not answer specific questions about the early-stage research.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson elaborated and said the firm is ‘actively working with the regulators and scientific community to understand these extremely rare blood-clotting events, including information to drive early diagnosis and intervention, and appropriate treatment.’

Although it’s unknown if the vaccines can even be modified, it might lead to changes in either ownership rights or approval by regulators, the newspaper reported.

The news comes just one day after it was revealed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is adding a new warning to the label of J&J’s vaccine due the risk of a rare autoimmune disorder. 


Johnson & Johnson (left) AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford (right) have begun studying whether their COVID-19 vaccines can be modified to lower the risk of blood clots along with a low platelet-count condition known as thrombocytopenia

Scientists hope to identify the causes behind the blood clots and maybe re-engineer the shots by next year

Both AstraZeneca’s and J&J’s immunization are known as viral vector vaccines.

They combine genetic material from the new virus with the genes of the adenovirus -which causes the common cold – to induce an immune response. 

The shots were deemed game-changers because they do not need to be stored at freezing temperatures like the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

What’s more, because J&J’s vaccine only requires one shot, it was expected to be used to inoculate hard-to-serve populations such as people living in rural areas and homebound seniors.

Being able to modify their vaccines to eliminate the risk of blood clots could increase confidence in the jabs. 

In April. the J&J vaccine was paused by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA for 10 days after six women under the age of 50 developed Cerebral Venous Sinus Thrombosis (CVST), a rare blood clot that forms in the venous sinuses in the brain.

The women developed CVST in combination with thrombocytopenia. 

This figure was later updated to include 28 people, including one 45-year-old woman who died. 

The pause was lifted and the FDA added a warning to J&J’s coronavirus vaccine that rare blood clotting events might occur, primarily among women under age 50.

Data from the CDC suggest the rate of clotting is about 0.3 cases per 100,000 doses of the J&J vaccine. 

Meanwhile, in April, the European Medicine Agency’s safety committee determined that blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effect of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

According to data from the UK and Europe, the rate of blood clotting with the AstraZeneca vaccine is slightly higher at about one or two per 100,000 doses. 

Several countries, including the UK, have recommended that people under age 60 be immunized with other vaccines because their risk of blood clotting is greater.

Earlier this year, German researchers at Goethe-University of Frankfurt and Ulm University, in Helmholtz, believe the the problem lies in the adenovirus vector, the common cold virus used so both vaccines can enter the body. 

They believe that in some people, the immune system sees the vaccine as a threat and over-produces antibodies to fight it. 

These lead to the formation of clumps in the blood, which can become deadly if the clots move towards vital organs and cut off supply. 

‘Progress is being rapidly pursued by the companies, and I think their desire to alter the vector or the vaccine is moving in parallel to explaining [the clots],’ Dr Mortimer Poncz, chief of the pediatric-hematology division at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told The Journal.

Recently both J&J’s and AstraZeneca’a vaccine were linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, temporarily paralyzing parts of the body.   

On Monday, The Washington Post reported that the FDA is add a warning to the J&J label about the condition.

The CDC said it has received about 100 preliminary reports of Guillain-Barré following the one-dose vaccine   

Most the cases have occurred about two weeks after vaccination and mostly in men aged 50 and older – and that this has not been seen with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

And a report from the American Neurological Association in June detailed 11 cases of patients who developed Guillain-Barré after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Q&A: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COVID VACCINES AND THEIR TINY RISK OF BLOOD CLOTS

IS THERE ANY PROOF THE JAB CAUSES THE BLOOD CLOTS?

Scientists have repeatedly insisted there is no proof yet that coronavirus vaccines cause the extremely rare complication — blood clots occurring alongside low platelet levels.

But officials are still investigating the link — found in recipients of both AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson’s vaccines — and can’t rule it out completely. 

DO SCIENTISTS HAVE A THEORY FOR WHAT MAY BE THE LINK?  

Experts are stumped as to why the vaccines may be triggering blockages in very rare cases.

But researchers in Germany believe the problem lies in the adenovirus vector — a common cold virus used so both vaccines can enter the body.

Academics investigating the issue say the complication is ‘completely absent’ in mRNA vaccines like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s because they have a different delivery mechanism.

Experts at Goethe-University of Frankfurt and Ulm University, in Helmholtz, say the AstraZeneca vaccine enters the nucleus of the cell – a blob of DNA in the middle. For comparison, the Pfizer jab enters the fluid around it that acts as a protein factory.

Bits of coronavirus proteins that get inside the nucleus can break up and the unusual fragments then get expelled out into the bloodstream, where they can trigger clotting in a tiny number of people, scientists claim.

WHAT SYMPTOMS DO THEY CAUSE?

The EMA said symptoms can strike up to three weeks post-vaccination.

British regulators say the complication tends to occur four days after people first get jabbed. 

Symptoms of the two blood clots can include: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swollen legs
  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Severe or persistent headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Seizures 
  • Skin bruising beyond the site of injection

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