Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused: What this means for New York

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New York State has immediately paused the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the emergence of a rare, but severe blood clotting disorder in six recipients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that out of an abundance of caution, they are urging states to halt distribution of the single dose vaccine while they investigate reports of these blood clots.

New Yorkers that were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson shot on Tuesday at a state-run vaccination site will instead receive the Pfizer vaccine, State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker announced Tuesday morning.

Out of the nearly 7 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses distributed across the United States, there have now been six reported cases in women of an extremely rare but severe blood clotting disorder, which may or may not be linked to the vaccine. One woman has died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.

Dr. Robert Amler, vice president and dean of Public Health at New York Medical College and a former CDC epidemiologist, said this news should not discourage people from still getting vaccinated.

“Be hesitant about getting infected with COVID,” Dr. Amler said. “The virus is still out there. We don’t know if the blood clots had anything to do with the vaccine, or if they were caused by the vaccine, and that’s why the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are investigating right now.”

According to the CDC and FDA, all six reported cases occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48.

The federal government is urging people to report if they have developed a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of being vaccinated.

Dr. Amler said people should report any side effect they are experiencing to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, even if they don’t feel it is severe.

“If they’re feeling something different after a vaccine, we, as I used to be in the federal government, we want them to report it,” Dr. Amler said. “We can have the statisticians and the others sort out whether it looks like that was a reaction or not, but we would rather know about it so we can include it in the database.”

Colleges and counties across the state have been planning Johnson & Johnson clinics. Most have been canceled or will be using a different vaccine.  

Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said they will be working hard to make sure there are not too many interruptions when it comes to appointments, but it will be important to know how long this distribution pause will last.

“Counties are honoring that direction from the state. We are also pausing, but as we go into tomorrow and the weeks ahead of us, we need to know how long the pause will be effect, because we have to shift the allocations that the state gives us around to various populations,” Acquario explained.

Less than 5 percent of all vaccine shots administered across the U.S. have been the Johnson & Johnson dose.

New York has administered a total of 535,350 doses of them to date.

However, Sarah Ravenhall, executive director of the New York State Association of County Health Officials, said this pause in distribution is still a concern, especially for more rural counties in the state.

“This is a challenge, but we’ve been dealing with challenges like this since the beginning of the pandemic. So we’re well prepared to look at our options and adjust as needed. Hopefully we’ll have more information from the federal government soon,” Ravenhall said.

Governor Andrew Cuomo at a closed press event said the state has enough Moderna and Pfizer shots to keep the state’s schedule, but did not go into further detail.

According to the Department of Health, the only state-run facility that had scheduled Johnson & Johnson shots for Wednesday is the Yankee stadium and those appointments will be back-filled with Pfizer.

The CDC’s outside advisory committee will be conducting an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss how to proceed with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the future.

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