Government Health

West Hartford, Statewide Clinics, to Suspend Use of J&J Shot

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District will be administering the Moderna vaccine to those who would have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, and is partnering to organize Pfizer clinics for students ages 16 and up.

By Hugh McQuaid, CTNewsJunkie.com 

Ronni Newton, We-Ha.com, contributed to this report.

Connecticut’s Public Health Department asked providers to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday to comply with new federal recommendations following reports of six cases in which women developed a rare blood clot following the shot.

In a Tuesday press release, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the clotting condition was serious but rare. The one-shot J&J dose had, as of Monday, been administered to 6.8 million residents across the country and around 100,000 people in Connecticut. The blood clot occurred in six women between 18 and 48 years-old.

None of the six cases occurred in Connecticut, according to the state Public Health Department.

“Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a joint statement from the FDA and CDC.

“We appreciate and understand that pause in J&J can cause some concern,” Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting commissioner of the Department of Public Health said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Deidre Gifford speaks at a press briefing Tuesday about the pause of the J&J vaccine administration.

Gifford said that the blood clot has been seen in combination with low platelet, and agencies felt they needed to do some more investigation. DPH sent notice to providers Tuesday morning urging that they pause use of the J&J vaccine, and also let physicians know about the possibility of the rare event, offering treatment suggestions.

“Although there is an association, and the FDA and CDC are doing an investigation,” Gifford said, it has not been proven at this point that the vaccine is the cause of the blood clots.

Connecticut and states around the country have recently been scaling down use of the J&J vaccine as a result of a production error that has stifled supply of the one-shot formula. But the sudden pause will have an impact on already-scheduled appointments and clinics.

“DPH has informed vaccine providers that were planning to hold clinics using J&J today and in the coming days to delay these clinics or offer an alternative vaccine if they have alternative vaccines available. DPH will work with providers to minimize the disruptions from this  announcement in the near-term to the extent possible, but we anticipate that some cancellations will occur,” a spokesperson for the department wrote in a Tuesday morning press release.

Aimee Krauss, director of the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, said Tuesday afternoon that she had already been able to shift the small number of people who had scheduled J&J appointments this week.

Homebound residents who were to have received J&J vaccines on Wednesday and Thursday through the At-Risk Community Health (ARCH) program will instead receive Moderna vaccines on Wednesday, Krauss said.

The switch to Moderna created more of a scheduling issue than anything else, Krauss said, because the J&J vials contain five doses vs. 10 in the Moderna vials. “We ended up taking people scheduled for Thursday to Wednesday to make up the 10 doses of Moderna,” she said.

West Hartford’s vaccination clinic on Kane Street, which opened last week, will be administering Moderna vaccines. “There’s no impact. We still have our doses,” Krauss said. West Hartford Public Schools employees will be receiving their second Moderna doses at the Kane Street clinic on Friday, she said, with a few who were unavailable this week due to April break scheduled for the following week.

The West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District does not use the Pfizer vaccine due to the storage requirements, but has partnered with UConn Health to arrange clinics that will be able to vaccinate 650 West Hartford Public Schools students with the Pfizer vaccine – which is the only one authorized for those ages 16 and 17. Krauss said she is working with another community provider to set up clinics for the non-public school students in West Hartford as well as students from Bloomfield High School. In West Hartford there are 530 students over age 16 at non-public schools, including Kingswood Oxford, Northwest Catholic, Hebrew High School of New England, Ben Bronz Academy, and the Intensive Education Academy.

State officials said Monday the vast majority of the J&J shots were being used to stock mobile clinics based out of minivans, which were designed to reach residents who had difficulties accessing more traditional vaccination sites.

Although they had planned to continue stocking the vans with the dwindling supply of the one-shot formula for as long as possible, public health officials had already been considering alternatives.

“The contingency plans that we’re working on have to do with them starting to do mRNA vaccines, so doing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, which obviously adds complexity to coordinate that follow up – that second dose appointment. But our providers are working on how those plans will evolve,” Josh Geballe, state chief operating officer said at a Monday press conference.

On Tuesday, the vaccine vans which had been administering the J&J shot suspended their clinics, but later in the day announced plans to administer the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

Another mobile unit run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was operating in New Britain, stopped to rework its schedule and would be able to offer the Pfizer vaccine. Later in the day plans were announced for the FEMA mobile clinic to proceed.

Geballe said the state had planned on about 21,000 doses of the J&J shot this week. That’s about 12% of Connecticut’s total vaccine supply for the week. However, the allocation of J&J was expected to drop sharply in the coming weeks.

“You should wait to hear from a provider regarding an appointment cancellation,” Gifford said Tuesday. If an appointment does get canceled without a new one scheduled, you can call 877-918-2224 or 2-1-1 for assistance. As of Tuesday afternoon, appointments to receive either Pfizer or Moderna shots were available the same day, the following day, and later in the week.

According to the health department, no Connecticut resident had reported serious side effects after taking the J&J vaccine. But the department press release advised residents to seek medical attention if they did not feel well.

Gifford said she herself received the J&J vaccine several weeks ago, and noted that the six cases of blood clots had all happened within six and 13 days.

“Although these side effects are extremely rare, the FDA and CDC recommend that people who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider,” the press release said.

Geballe said Tuesday that the J&J pause should not make a significant impact on the state’s timetable for getting the majority of those eligible vaccinated. “We’re still full steam ahead for everyone to get vaccinated,” he said, with supply of vaccine still expected to exceed demand by late April.

He also said the pause is not going to impact plans to get college students in the state at least one shot before they go home for the summer. That vaccination plan had already pivoted due to the reduction in J&J supply.

While the timetable is not yet certain, “The COVID task force said the pause in J&J is probably going to be measured in days, not weeks,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday afternoon.

Both Gifford and Lamont continued to emphasize the huge effectiveness of vaccines at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID, and urged residents to weigh the benefit and risk.

“It’s a one in a million occurrence. One in a million,” Lamont said. “I’d like to think that this will be resolved by the end of the week.”

“We know the risk of COVID is real” and has taken the lives of nearly 8,000 state residents, Gifford said.

Republished with permission from CTNewsJunkie.com, all rights reserved.

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