Whitley, Laurel health departments pause Johnson & Johnson vaccines as panel wants more evidence as to cause of blood clots

Emily Adams-Bentley, The Times-Tribune, Corbin, Ky.
·3 min read

Apr. 15—TRI-COUNTY — The Whitley and Laurel County Health Departments are both putting a "pause" on the administration of the single-dose Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

On Tuesday, both the Whitley and Laurel County Health Departments announced on their Facebook pages that they would be pausing the distribution of the J&J vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were investigating unusual clots that occurred in persons six to 13 days after receiving the J&J vaccine.

The clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain and occurred together with low platelets. All six cases were in women between the ages of 18 and 48; there was one death and all remain under investigation.

On Wednesday, U.S. health advisers told the government that they needed more evidence to decide if the blood clots were linked to the shot — and if so, how big the potential risk really is.

At an emergency meeting, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrestled with the fact that the U.S. has enough vaccine alternatives to do without the J&J vaccine for a time, but other countries anxiously awaiting the one-and-done shot may not.

One committee member, Dr. Grace Lee, was among those who advocated tabling a vote. She echoed concerns about getting more data to better understand the size of the risk and whether it was greater for any particular group of people.

"I continue to feel like we're in a race against time and the variants, but we need to (move forward) in the safest possible way," said Lee, of Stanford University.

Laurel County Health Department Public Health Director Mark Hensley said he was notified of the recommendation by the Kentucky Department of Public Health on Tuesday morning to cease administration of the vaccine for the time being. Hensley said he has not been in contact with other vaccination sites in the county that may be administering the vaccine, though.

"I'm not aware of any providers continuing during the pause," said Whitley County Health Department Marcy Rein.

"It will most likely set us back a few days as we wait on a decision from the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices)," Hensley said of how this pause may impact the administration of all COVID-19 vaccinations.

"We had several outreach clinics scheduled that we may have to reschedule," Rein said of the impact. "We anticipate having more information after Wednesday's ACIP meeting. I don't see the overall vaccine rates decreasing significantly because of this pause. J&J is not the majority manufacturer used in the community. At the Health Department we were converting to using primarily J&J to help with doing outreach locations, but most other providers like pharmacies and hospitals are using other manufacturers."

When asked if the Pfizer and/or Moderna will be available at the Laurel County Health Department in place of the J&J vaccine during this pause, Hensley said that would depend on "how long the pause actually is, we are hopeful that the ACIP renders a decision soon."

Rein said that there were plenty of appointments available to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

"I think where people will feel a delay is if they were specifically counting on J&J because they really preferred a single shot or other reason," Rein said. "The Moderna we have at the Health Department right now is designated for boost dose appointments so we are not able to offer it as an alternative to the J&J."

The other two authorized vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer, make up the vast share of COVID-19 shots administered in the U.S. and are not affected by the pause.

CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat said authorities have not seen similar clots after use of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and that people should continue to get vaccinated with those shots.