By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
The Washington State Department of Health and Public Health Seattle-King County (PHSKC), following the guidance of the CDC and FDA, has paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine until further notice. This decision was made after reports of a rare, severe type of blood clot in six people out of the estimated 6.85 million people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S.
“National vaccine safety monitoring systems have identified an association between this vaccine and a rare type of serious blood clotting disorder,” says Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health Seattle – King County. “This safety signal has not been identified with the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.”
According to officials, this pause is important, in part, to ensure that the health care providers are aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and mitigation due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot.
When the CDC and FDA issued its guidance on Tuesday, PHSKC contacted providers in throughout the area to inform them that they should cease the use of Johnson and Johnson until they receive further recommendations from the CDC about how best to move forward. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will review these cases in the days ahead and will recommend new guidance going forward.
The pause in administering the J&J vaccine has already impacted many vaccination sites in the area. However, most people who currently have vaccination appointments may not be affected, as many will be able to receive either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead. Here are some details on how this will impact vaccine distribution in King County:
• Auburn high-volume vaccination site at the Auburn Outlet Mall: Anyone who currently has an appointment scheduled at the Auburn Outlet Mall vaccination site can keep their appointment and receive the Moderna vaccine instead of J&J. The Auburn site has paused scheduling new appointments.
• Kent high-volume vaccination site at Showare Center: Appointments at the Kent vaccination site use the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and are not affected.
• Community partner vaccination sites: Several thousand J&J doses were distributed to community partners by Public Health this week. Public Health has contacted them to pause administering J&J vaccines and await further information.
• City of Seattle community vaccination fixed sites: All currently scheduled appointments will remain scheduled using the Pfizer vaccine.
• Mobile vaccination: Planned mobile vaccine visits to homeless service sites and homebound individuals will continue using Moderna vaccine instead of J&J where doses are available.
• King County jails: Vaccination is currently paused.
What if someone already got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
According to PHSKC, if a person received the J&J vaccine more than three weeks ago, the risk of this complication is very low. People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the past three weeks should monitor for symptoms. If a person develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath, they should contact their health care provider or an urgent care center.
About 149,000 doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in Washington so far, out of more than four million total vaccine doses. The Washington State Department of Health has no knowledge of any of the six patients being Washington state residents. However, health officials want the public to be aware that the J&J vaccine is still effective at protecting against infection from COVID-19. If you have received a J&J vaccine dose, you are still considered fully vaccinated.
“The J&J vaccine provides great benefits in protecting people from serious COVID-19 infections,” assures Duchin.
If someone is scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, what should they do?
According to officials, you should contact your vaccine provider for information about your appointment. J&J vaccines will not be administered, so your appointment may be rescheduled or you may be offered a different vaccine.
PHSKC says that they are monitoring the risks in order to provide the public with more accurate and updated information. “Over the coming days, we will have more information about the risk of this rare event after vaccination in relation to the benefits of vaccination,” says Duchin. “This will include risks related to age and gender, and whether any changes are needed in how we use the J & J vaccine.”