CDC and FDA recommend pausing Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution, canceling about 500 appointments in Summit County
Central Health and Summit Community Care Clinic are among local providers who are following these recommendations
On Tuesday morning, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Joint Vaccine Task Force told providers to temporarily pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The move came hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration released a joint statement recommending the same thing.
Moments afterward, Summit Community Care Clinic sent an email to patients notifying them that it canceled its vaccine clinic Wednesday, April 14, at Summit Middle School and Friday, April 16, at the Medical Office Building. Centura Health also released a statement saying it was going to pause use of the vaccine throughout its health system in Colorado and western Kansas.
The initial news release from the CDC and FDA said the departments 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.” These cases occurred in women ages 18-48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.
The CDC’s release said treatment for this type of blood clot is different “from the treatment that might typically be administered” and that it’s giving time for health providers to be aware of these potential cases and to “plan for proper recognition and management.”
The reactions are similar to the AstraZeneca vaccine, the distribution of which has been put on hold in many European countries. The AstraZeneca vaccine has not been approved for emergency use in the U.S.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is intended to be temporary and not last longer than a few days.
“On a call with the White House (Tuesday), it was indicated that this pause with the Johnson & Johnson (vaccine) would be days, not weeks,” he said. “That is the very likely scenario.”
Dr. Kathleen Cowie, family physician and chief medical officer at Summit Community Care Clinic, noted that the vaccine is still an effective preventative tool against COVID-19.
“This doesn’t change the effectiveness of the vaccine, but it changes our concerns around complications,” Cowie said. “There were six cases of a type of blood clot called a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which is a blood clot in the brain. … It’s (a) serious but potentially rare complication of the vaccine.
“Six cases out of almost 7 million vaccines (administered in the U.S.) is still a very, very low rate, but with anything new, we have to make sure that it is first and foremost safe for the people that are receiving it.”
Of 216 doses of the vaccine distributed by the Care Clinic in Summit County, Cowie said there was only one adverse event, which she called an “anxiety reaction.” She said there have been no serious side effects.
While the announcement is worrisome, Polis said the pause is not intended to frighten Coloradans but rather to boost confidence that the CDC and FDA will be investigating.
“This pause recommended by the FDA and CDC is designed to increase public confidence in the vaccines, and we want people to know that the vaccines are safe and effective,” he said.
When Summit Community Care Clinic called off its two Johnson & Johnson clinics this week, it forced about 500 residents to cancel their appointments, Cowie said. According to the alert email sent from the Care Clinic, these residents will receive first priority for upcoming vaccine clinics.
Cowie said the news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine inhibits the county’s overall goal of getting residents vaccinated.
“It definitely pushes us back in our goal,” Cowie said. “Whenever you have a vaccine that’s a one dose versus two dose, taking the one dose vaccine out of the equation will of course decrease our ability to vaccinate folks by at least 50%.”
Luckily, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up only a small portion of Colorado’s weekly vaccine allocation, according to the news release from the state health department. “This week, for example, the state’s Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) allocation is 9,700, compared to nearly 280,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna the state expects to receive this week.”
As research continues surrounding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Cowie said it’s important to keep everything in perspective.
“I think it’s important to remember that there is a risk involved with any sort of treatment,” she said. “This is getting a lot of press because it’s something new, and it’s something that is potentially serious. However, we need to remember what we’re preventing. In this instance, it’s also a life-threatening illness.
“It’s really hard to weigh the two. You’re not comparing apples and apples here. We really need to make sure we’re doing what’s best for everyone in our community, whether it means getting a different vaccine or if it means delaying vaccines or if it means extending our measures around social distancing and mask wearing into the summer to make sure that we’re taking care of each other.”
Polis echoed this sentiment.
“While it’s very important to know what the different relatively minor risk parameters of any vaccine are, there are none that even approach two or three orders of magnitude of the risk of the virus,” he said.
On Monday, Polis’ office announced that more than 2 million Coloradans have been inoculated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and more than 1.2 million Coloradans have been fully vaccinated.
In Summit County, 61.3% of residents have had at least one vaccine dose and 35.8% of residents are fully vaccinated.
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