Santa Cruz County has put a temporary hold on the administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines at its inoculation clinic in Nogales, following a recommendation on Tuesday that the product be shelved pending an investigation into its potential to cause rare blood clots.
“We’ve paused it right now until we get a little more clarification from the state as well as CDC,” said Jeff Terrell, the county’s health services director, on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced it was recommending a pause in the use of the J&J vaccine, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“The CDC and FDA are recommending a pause in the use of the vaccine based on six reported U.S. cases, out of 6.8 million doses administered nationally, of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” the ADHS said in a news release.
Because the state’s guidance came in the form of a recommendation rather than a requirement, individual counties were left to make their own decisions. The Associated Press reported that Maricopa and Pima, the largest of the state’s 15 counties, had both stopped administering the J&J vaccine, as well as several others.
The pause interrupted plans to give the single-shot J&J vaccine to jail inmates in some parts of the state. But otherwise, it wasn’t likely to significantly disrupt the larger vaccination effort in Arizona. In a state where more than 4.2 million vaccines doses had been administered as of Tuesday, only around 122,000 had been J&J shots.
And in Santa Cruz County, the vast majority of the 34,306 vaccine doses administered as of Wednesday had been manufactured by Moderna. Terrell said the county had been allocated 1,900 J&J doses, including 100 that arrived this week, with several hundred of those not yet administered.
“It’s not a giant blow to us at this time,” he said of the pause, adding: “Now, it could be if they totally pull it.”
Federal authorities said on Tuesday that the pause might be short-lived, but when a CDC advisory committee met Wednesday on the matter, its members decided they needed more time to assess the data and risks, and would not vote on a recommendation until they meet again in a week or 10 days, the New York Times reported.
The J&J vaccine has unique appeal as the only one-shot COVID-19 vaccine currently approved for use in the United States. And as Terrell noted, “the one-shot could get you those people that could not make it back for that second shot, and that you predict that wouldn’t come back for the second shot.”
Plus, he said, if the vaccine were completely pulled from distribution over safety concerns, it could create a generalized “vaccine hesitancy” among some members of the public.
In an apparent attempt to assuage fears that might arise from the recommended pause in J&J vaccine administration, Dr. Cara Christ, the state’s top health official, said in the ADHS news release that: “The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and is one of the best tools we have to reduce the spread of the disease in Arizona. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
The Walmart and Food City pharmacies in Nogales just recently begun receiving J&J vaccines as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. However, Food City had not yet begun administering the doses to the public, and a pharmacist who answered the phone at the local Walmart on Wednesday said they had paused the administration of J&J vaccines.
Walgreens in Nogales has been participating in the federal program since February, but it’s been giving Moderna vaccines.
According to a joint CDC and FDA statement issued on Tuesday, the agencies were reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine.
“In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia),” the statement said, adding that the six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.
“People who have received the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine within the past three weeks who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath should contact their health care provider,” the CDC said on its website.