Washington state is pausing the administration of Johnson & Johnson vaccines as federal health agencies review six cases in which women developed rare blood clots after receiving the one-dose shot.
It’s not yet clear if the condition is caused by, or just associated with, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and state health officials say Washingtonians should still have confidence in its safety and effectiveness. According to Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah, the pause is to ensure that medical providers get information on how to treat the condition, and will likely be lifted in the coming days.
In a press conference Tuesday, state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist highlighted the need to communicate with providers, saying a common treatment option for blood clots could, in this case, “actually be devastating.”
And while state officials emphasized just how rare the occurrence is — just six cases have been identified nationwide out of the nearly 7 million recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — those who received the shot in the last two to three weeks should still monitor their symptoms.
If shortness of breath or severe pain in the head, abdomen or extremities arise after patients received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they should contact their health care provider.
That includes individuals who received the shot at Lewis County’s April 3 Southwest Washington Fairgrounds clinic, the last county-run fairgrounds clinic that administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
According to Lewis County Public Health Director JP Anderson, approximately 6,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been delivered to the county. It’s unclear how many of those doses made it into the arms of Lewis County residents. No cases of blood clotting after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been reported in Lewis County, he added.
In pointing to how rare the potential side effect is, Shah and Lindquist highlighted other medications, such as antibiotics and contraceptives, in which patients entertain higher risks of serious side effects.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is preparing to review the blood clotting cases this week, and state officials are working to reach out to local providers and identify where Johnson & Johnson doses have been allocated throughout the state.
According to Acting Assistant Health Secretary Michele Roberts, about 650 facilities statewide have received doses. Providence spokesman Chris Thomas reported that of the 45,000 COVID-19 vaccines administered by the provider in Southwest Washington, about 8% were Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Although it’s unclear how exactly how long the Johnson & Johnson shot will be out of the mix as Washington races to get residents inoculated, Roberts noted that it’s unlikely the pause will have significant impacts on overall vaccine supply.
No Johnson & Johnson vaccines were set to roll into Lewis County this week, according to Anderson, and more mass vaccination clinics for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be announced for the fairgrounds in the coming days.
So far, only about 6% of the doses administered throughout the state have been Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and weekly allocations to the state were already expected to decline to about 4,000 doses per week, Roberts said. Recently, manufacturing issues slowed down the rollout of that version of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The result is that Washington can “comfortably continue with the plan on vax day,” Shah said, referencing this Thursday, when all Washingtonians 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Anderson and Thomas also noted that while the announcement by federal health agencies is concerning, it’s also evident of a well-functioning system to track post-vaccination symptoms.
“A pause like this indicates that the process in place to monitor adverse effects of COVID-19 vaccines is working,” Thomas said in an email.
Health care providers and patients can report “adverse events” post-vaccination to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) at https://vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html.