The US government is blocking states from ordering Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine so they can clear their backlog of unused doses

Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine clinical trial, volunteer dosed with experimental COVID-19 vaccine
A clinical trial volunteer participates in Johnson & Johnson’s study to test a coronavirus vaccine.

  • The government has blocked any shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, health officials told the WSJ.
  • States already have stockpiles of the single-dose J&J shot, and vaccination rates are falling.
  • Millions of J&J vaccines are due to expire this month.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US government is stopping orders of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines so states can try to use up stockpiled doses as vaccination rates drop, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

US state and federal health officials told The Journal that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is banning states from ordering the J&J shot. Some of the officials said it was only a temporary measure.

Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois haven’t been able to order new supplies of the one-dose vaccine in recent weeks, according to health officials there. Some said their state had enough doses of the shot.

“It just hasn’t been included in our weekly allocations, from the feds, which means it is not available to order,” Keith Reed, deputy commissioner of Oklahoma’s state department of health, told the Journal.

It was unclear exactly why the government halted the J&J vaccine shipments based on the comments from officials, the Journal reported.

The vaccine suspension comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday extended the shelf life of the J&J vaccine from three months to four-and-a-half months when refrigerated.

States currently have excess doses of the J&J vaccine, and millions of the single-dose vaccines are set to expire in June. The J&J shot was authorized by the FDA in February.

J&J didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. The drugmaker told the Journal that it would “continue to work with the US government and health authorities to support the use of our vaccine, which continues to play an important role, including among those who wish to be fully vaccinated with one shot.”

Just over half of the American adult population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot, according to data from the CDC.

But vaccine uptake is dropping. On April 1, vaccination rates hit a peak of 4.3 million, but in June that number fell to an average of less than one million a day, CDC data showed.

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Johnson & Johnson faces 25,000 US lawsuits over its baby powder. Some users say talc in the product caused their cancers.

Johnson J&J baby powder
  • Johnson & Johnson has set aside $3.9 billion in “litigation expenses,” it said Monday.
  • This includes funds related to the talc scandal, where its baby powder was linked to asbestos.
  • As of January 3, it faced 25,000 US lawsuits over its baby powder, the pharmaceutical giant said.
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Pharmaceuticals giant Johnson & Johnson has set aside $3.9 billion in “litigation expenses,” including dealing with a years-long battle over its talc baby powder, of which one bottle was found to contain asbestos.

The company set aside the funds “primarily [for] talc related reserves and certain settlements,” it said in an SEC filing Monday.

This is substantially higher than the $400 million it set aside for litigation expenses in 2019.

The number of pending personal injury lawsuits related to its baby powder “continues to increase,” the company said. As of January 3, it faced 25,000 lawsuits over its baby powder in the US, it said.

In 2018, a Reuters report suggested Johnson & Johnson knew for years that its baby powder potentially contained small amounts of asbestos, a human carcinogen. The article prompted a stock selloff that erased about $40 billion from J&J’s market value in one day.

Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder contained talc, which is often found and mined near asbestos. According to company documents reviewed by Reuters, Johnson & Johnson knew about the potential contamination of asbestos in mining of talc as far back as 1971.

In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would discontinue sales of its talc-based baby powder in the US and Canada. The company said it “remains steadfastly confident in the safety of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder,” but said that demand had dropped off in the wake of the lawsuits.

The statement came just months after the company issued a recall of 33,000 bottles of its baby powder after testing found sub-trace amounts of asbestos in a single bottle in October 2019, prompting Walmart, CVS Health, and Rite Aid to pull it from their shelves.

Lawsuits have been primarily filed in state courts in Missouri, New Jersey, and California, alongside some outside of the US, Johnson & Johnson said in the SEC filing.

The majority of cases are pending in federal court, organized into a multi-district litigation in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, it said.

The company is also appealing to the US Supreme Court to overturn a verdict after the Missouri Court of Appeals asked it to pay $2.1 billion to a group of 22 women who alleged the company’s powder caused their ovarian cancer.

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