To some critics, it makes no sense to hobble a global vaccination campaign during a pandemic just because of a few cases of a rare disorder.
But while rare side effects may be tolerated as the price we must pay for some drugs or vaccines, even the rarest ones are difficult to accept if they are severe and unpredictable — like blood clots in the brain, especially in young, healthy people.
“This is a devastating complication,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser for the pandemic in the Biden administration, said in an interview.
He added: “One woman died, three are in the hospital, one in intensive care. Even though the numbers are small, it is a devastating complication, so I believe — I didn’t make the decision — I believe their rationale, at least from what they communicated to me, is that they wanted to call a quick pause to see, to alert people. Sometimes this starts with minor symptoms, like a little abdominal discomfort, and then all of a sudden they wind up having a stroke.”
He also said, “Maybe there are a lot more people out there we’re not noticing, because of the spectrum of the disease.”
Informing doctors and the public of the symptoms — severe headaches, shortness of breath, leg or abdominal pain — could help identify more cases.
Another reason for the pause, Dr. Fauci said, is to let doctors know that the drug heparin, a standard treatment for blood clots, should not be given to these patients, “because heparin in this circumstance can make things worse.”