Carolinas halt administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine amid clot reports

Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 2:31 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV/AP) - North and South Carolina will stop administering the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during a pause recommended by the U.S.

The Federal Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday they were investigating clots that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. 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 remained under investigation.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says they are following recommendations to pause administration of the J&J vaccine out of an abundance of caution.

“Our primary concern is the health and safety of all North Carolinians. Out of an abundance of caution, we are following the recommendations of the FDA and CDC and have paused the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine until we learn more. The safety system in place is working as it should. If you have an appointment for Pfizer or Moderna, please go to your appointment as planned. If you have an appointment for Johnson & Johnson, your appointment will be re-scheduled.”

South Carolina health leaders are also pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released a statement concerning Tuesday morning’s federal announcement about the Janssen vaccine, also referred to as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Our top priority is protecting the health and safety of the public. This pause is evidence of very close safety monitoring as part of the strict quality assurance that is in place to ensure patient safety,” the press release read.

DHEC has placed an immediate pause on our Janssen distribution and has contacted providers to alert them of this new development. In addition, health leaders say they are currently in the process of rescheduling or changing planned vaccine types for events that were going to use Janssen.

NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen said she received the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“I did get the Johnson & Johnson shot and within the first 24 hours I felt achy and have felt well since,” Cohen said.

“What we’re talking about an incredibly rare, literally a 1 in a million adverse reaction,” Cohen said regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, “but we do want folks to now about it.”

Cohen says anyone experiencing severe headaches, shortness of breath, abdominal pain or leg pain, after getting the vaccine should get in touch with their healthcare provider.

Healthcare providers have also been briefed on how to treat this rare blood clot coupled with low levels of blood platelets.

“Typically with blood clots the treatment we use is a blood thinner and in this case that can actually make things worse so making sure people are aware of symptoms and what would be the treatment,” Dr. Katie Passaretti with Atrium Health told WBTV.

Health experts are preparing for more vaccine hesitancy as a result of this.

“We will look at the data, see where the gap exists, whether it be a racial ethnic gap, whether it be an age gap, and then target those communities with facts, with truth, with conversation, with engagement and with activation,” Dr. Jerome Williams with Novant Health said.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris says it’s a small risk worth taking given the alternative.

“If you actually become infected with covid there’s risks there as well, and what we’re seeing with the vaccine is a much lower risk than actually becoming infected with the virus,” Harris said.

What if you already have an appointment to receive the J&J vaccine?

Residents who have an appointment to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will instead be provided with a Pfizer of Moderna shot, N.C health leaders say.

Mecklenburg County Public Health shifted Tuesday’s one-dose shot clinic at the Salvation Army to Moderna.

It is also providing homebound patients with Pfizer doses instead of Johnson and Johnson.

The county event at Camp North End in Charlotte this weekend will now be a Pfizer clinic. Appointments are still available here.

SCDHEC says the state is currently in the process of rescheduling or changing planned vaccine types for events that were going to use Janssen.

More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been given in the U.S., the vast majority with no or mild side effects.

“I’d like to stress these events appear to be extremely rare. However COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority,” FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said at a news conference. “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”

The agencies are recommending that people who were given the J&J vaccine who are experiencing severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after receiving the shot contact their health care provider.

If you have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and have not had any side effects associated with blood clots, officials say the risk of having a reaction is unlikely.

Common temporary reactions after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine include sore arm, headache, tiredness, and fever. Some people experience lightheadedness and nausea.

The CDC recommends the following measures to prevent adverse effects:

  • Staying hydrated and having a snack before the appointment
  • Taking slow, deep breaths and focusing on something relaxing before getting the vaccine
  • Sitting or lying down after being vaccinated

J&J said in a statement it was aware of the reports of blood clots, but that no link to its vaccine had been established. The company also said it is delaying the rollout of its vaccine in Europe as a precaution.

U.S. health authorities cautioned doctors against using a typical clot treatment, the blood-thinner heparin. “In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous and alternative treatments need to be given,” the FDA and CDC said.

A CDC committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the cases and the FDA has also launched an investigation into the cause of the clots and low platelet counts.

Copyright 2021 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this article. All rights reserved.