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DOH urges inoculations despite pause in J&J vaccine distribution

  • FILE - In this March 26, 2021, file photo, a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site setup at a Salvation Army location in Philadelphia. U.S. health regulators on Tuesday, April 13, is recommending a “pause” in using the vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

  • CHAR

The state Department of Health temporarily suspended the use of the Johnson &Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration began looking into reports of a potentially serious side effect.

The federal agencies on Tuesday recommended a “pause” in using the single-dose vaccine after a rare but severe type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis was reported in six women between the ages of 18 and 48.

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According to the CDC and FDA, the clots occurred together with low platelet counts, and symptoms appeared 6-13 days after vaccination.

“We are pausing out of an abundance of caution. Vaccine safety is of the utmost importance,” said state Health Director Dr. Libby Char in a statement. “The risk of developing a blood clot is very low. About 6.8 million Johnson &Johnson vaccines have been administered in the United States. Six people have developed blood clots.”

According to the DOH, there have been no reports of anyone in Hawaii developing blood clots after receiving a Johnson &Johnson vaccine.

A few DOH vaccination clinics were set to use the vaccines in the coming days, but Char said during a Zoom call with reporters that the clinics instead will use vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, both of which require two doses.

“I just wanted to reassure our community that we’re vaccinating safely across Hawaii,” she said. “And we want to encourage people to still get vaccinated. This is a setback for us, but we really, really still want people to get vaccinated to be protected for themselves and also (to) protect their families from COVID.”

While vaccinations have opened up to all residents 16 and older on the neighbor islands, vaccinations on Oahu currently are available for adults 50 and older and essential workers.

“Interestingly, we didn’t have that much Johnson &Johnson that was set to arrive in Hawaii this week, so it won’t effect us that much,” Char said. “It’s a setback just because it’s fewer doses of vaccine, and we in Hawaii had actually been hoping to get more and more.

“We still have a really good demand for vaccine, and we’re really thankful for that,” she continued. “So, we’re going to keep marching forward. Most of the vaccine that we’re using out in our community PODs and in the hospitals is Pfizer and Moderna anyway, so this will set us back a little bit, but not a lot.”

DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said that as of Tuesday, Hawaii has received 47,600 doses of the Johnson &Johnson vaccine through the department. Of those, 17,808 have been administered.

Those numbers do not include doses that might have been distributed through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Char said the state will keep its remaining 30,000 doses of the Johnson &Johnson vaccine and wait for guidance from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which will meet today to further review the reported cases.

“In the meantime, we’re going to hang on to the doses that we have, and just await the science and the data and see where we go from there.”

The Johnson &Johnson vaccine received emergency use authorization from the FDA in late February with great fanfare. Yet, the shot only makes up a small fraction of the doses administered in the U.S.

The company has been plagued by production delays and manufacturing errors at the Baltimore plant of a contractor, according to the Associated Press.

Johnson &Johnson said in a statement that it was aware of the reports of blood clots, but that no link to its vaccine had been established, the AP reported. However, the company late Tuesday said it would delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe and pause new vaccinations in its trials that are still underway until it can assess how to proceed.

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The DOH said that individuals who received a Johnson &Johnson vaccine within the past few weeks should monitor themselves for symptoms and contact their health care provider if they experience a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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