The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department will halt all distribution of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine while FDA and CDC officials investigate a rare instance of blood clots among six patients who received the shot.
All counties in California were advised Tuesday to pause J&J allocations at vaccine clinics until advised otherwise by the California Department of Public Health. According to CBS News, all 50 states are following this same protocol and paused the distribution of the J&J vaccine until further guidance is provided.
In Santa Barbara County, everyone who was set to receive the J&J vaccine at a county health clinic this week will now receive the Moderna vaccine instead, according to a statement from the county’s Public Health Department.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will convene today for an emergency session to discuss further guidance after receiving reports of blood clots among six women who received the J&J vaccine.
The women were between the ages of 18 and 48 and developed a blood clot between six and 13 days after receiving the vaccine. One woman died.
In a joint statement Tuesday, Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said they recommended the pause out of an “abundance of caution.”
“This (pause is) important, in part, to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot,” the officials said in a statement. “Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously.”
Health officials at both the federal and local level are reminding the public that the chance of this severe adverse reaction remains low. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CBS Evening News that the chance of experiencing these adverse side effects is “less than one in a million.” The U.S. distributed a total of 6.8 million doses of the vaccine as of Monday.
In Santa Barbara County, approximately 12,500 doses of the J&J vaccine have been distributed countywide, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, told the News-Press. For those who already received the vaccine, Dr. Ansorg advised against panic and encouraged the public to watch for severe side effects.
“I would encourage those who have received the (J&J) vaccine to not panic,” Dr. Ansorg said. “Please just watch out for two weeks after the vaccine. If you experience a really severe headache, back pain, stomach pain, shortness of breath or a swollen leg, then seek medical care right away. If you just experience achiness or headache or fatigue for one or two days, that will not be a blood clot. That will just be a response after any kind of vaccine.”
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, said she feels reassured by the CDC and FDA’s decision to pause the vaccine allocation until the side effects are further investigated. At Cottage, staff has only distributed the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines thus far, though they will likely receive shipments of J&J for distribution in the future, she said.
“I think to me it’s, of course, concerning to hear about this rare side effect … but it actually reassures me that the system works,” Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press. She added that she feels comforted knowing that federal agencies are taking steps to protect the public even when there is such a low number of adverse reactions.
“I’m very reassured they’re taking this very seriously,” she said.
During a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the pause in the distribution of the J&J vaccine, explaining that the halt in allocation will not heavily impact the state’s vaccine rollout in the coming week.
According to Gov. Newsom, the J&J vaccine only accounts for 4% of the state’s weekly allocation, and the state anticipates a greater surge of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“It will not materially impact our ability to fulfill our expectations and commitment to providing enough vaccines to fully vaccinate all those that seek to get vaccinated so that we can begin to more fully open our economy by June 15,” Gov. Newsom said Tuesday. “We will not delay our efforts later this week to open up vaccine eligibility to all Californians (aged) 16 and over.”
Federal officials are also reporting that the halting of J&J distribution will not significantly impact the national vaccine rollout. During a White House briefing on Tuesday, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, said the administration is making 28 million Moderna and Pfizer shots available this week, up from an average of 25 million doses administered weekly.
“We have more than enough supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to continue the current pace of about 3 million shots per day,” Mr. Zients said. “And that puts us well on pace to meet the president’s goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office and continue to reach every adult who wants to get vaccinated.”