Gem State Roundup

Idaho health officials urge pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines

By: - April 13, 2021 11:54 am
Coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccine

Federal regulators have authorized multiple vaccines for emergency use in the prevention of COVID-19, a disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. (Courtesy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration)

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare on Tuesday issued a recommendation to health care providers to follow guidance from U.S. regulators and hold off on continuing to administer COVID-19 vaccines made by Johnson & Johnson.

Federal officials issued a recommendation early Tuesday morning that health care providers pause use of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are reviewing six cases of what may be an extremely rare side effect of the vaccine.

The cases involve “a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Health and Welfare said. Nearly 7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S., including more than 30,000 doses in Idaho.

One of the six patients died, and one is hospitalized in critical condition. All were women between ages 18 and 48. None of these adverse events, cerebral sinus vein thrombosis, have been reported in Idaho.

“The chances of you getting hit by lightning are 1 in 500,000,” said Primary Health Medical Group CEO Dr. David Peterman. “The chance of you getting a cerebral sinus vein thrombosis is less than 1 in 1 million.”

Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday in a telephone town hall with AARP Idaho that it’s still not known for certain whether the vaccine caused the blood clots, but that reviewing any possible safety risk is important.

“Vaccine safety is the nation’s and Idaho’s No. 1 priority,” Health and Welfare said in its news release.

Idaho was allocated 1,000 doses of J&J vaccine for delivery next week and another 1,000 were allocated to Idaho for the following week, according to spokesperson Niki Forbing-Orr. That is a small fraction of the total doses Idaho receives each week, due to the much higher supply of vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee expects to meet Wednesday to review the six cases.

“We are monitoring it very closely until we learn more,” Dr. Christine Hahn, an infectious disease physician and Idaho’s lead epidemiologist, said in Health and Welfare’s press release. “If you have a scheduled appointment to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, please work with your vaccine provider to postpone your appointment until we learn more or consider getting a different vaccine.”

Hahn noted that no cases of similar adverse events have been reported for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — which use a different method to prompt a person’s body to develop COVID-19 immunity. Hahn said state health officials recommend Idahoans keep their appointments for those vaccines.

“Some flu-like symptoms immediately after getting a vaccine is normal,” Health and Welfare said in the release. “But people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their doctor immediately.”

Symptoms in the six cases occurred six to 13 days after vaccination, the department said.

Local health care providers have been working to reschedule patients who were signed up for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, offering them the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines instead.

But some of them worry the latest news will complicate the vaccine rollout.

“I’m very concerned that this is a step backwards, that this will cause vaccine hesitancy, and that is not what we need right now,” said Peterman, of Primary Health.

Peterman noted that, in the COVID-19 testing his clinics are doing, more than 80% of the positive test samples from Treasure Valley residents have the telltale sign of mutations seen in “variants of concern.”

That is one major reason for Idahoans to get vaccinated, he said.

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton, senior investigative reporter, joined the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover include health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Dutton hails from Twin Falls. She attended college at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.