UPDATE April 16: With more Johnson & Johnson appointments through next week being canceled, the state has added a number of new vaccination slots around the area that are using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Sites with more slots include the pharmacies at Shaw’s and WalMart in Berlin, Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury and The Health Center in Plainfield in addition to the Central Vermont Medical Center’s location at the Berlin Mall. More information can be found at healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine.
ORIGINAL STORY: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced today that the state would abide by a request from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control to “pause” administering the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at state clinics.
Scott said at his regular COVID news conference Tuesday afternoon that the state would “out of an abundance of caution” suspend usage of the J&J vaccine at state clinics starting today. He noted that the J&J vaccine is still “safe and effective” and that he received that particular vaccine last week.
Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said that roughly 4,000 Vermonters were scheduled for J&J vaccines through Friday, April 16, and that they would be contacted by the state to reschedule their appointments. An additional 1,800 Vermonters are scheduled to receive the J&J vaccine beyond Friday, but the fate of those appointments will be decided when the state has more information.
The pause comes as news broke Tuesday morning that the CDC and the FDA were investigating instances of blood clots among those who received the vaccine. The FDA expects to meet Wednesday to review the cases. Dr. Janet Woodcock, the agency’s acting commissioner, says, “We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.” The sentiment of this being a short delay was echoed by state leaders today.
Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont Commissioner of Health, outlined the blood clotting issue by noting that all six cases were women and that all developed symptoms between 6 and 13 days after vaccination in unusual places such as the sinuses or the gut, which yielded symptoms of severe headaches and abdominal pain. He also noted that one of the major reasons for the delay is that the traditional treatment for blood clots, the drug heparin, is not advised for this particular kind of clot and time was needed to advise treatment in the event a patient develops the rare side effect.
Levine went on to note that symptoms such as mild headache and fatigue are common for a few days after any vaccination and are not an indication of this blood clotting side effect and that those who have received the vaccine more than one month ago are also not at risk. Dr. Levine also said that none of the cases of blood clotting are in Vermont.
According to Dr. Peter Marks of the FDA, “the U.S. CDC and FDA are 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.” The statement also notes that more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been given.
Marks goes on to say, “Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously. 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.”
While administration of the J&J vaccine is being paused, the availability of the two other approved COVID-19 vaccines in Washington County appears to be scarce. A check this morning showed no appointments available at Kinney Drugs in Montpelier and Berlin, Walgreens in Montpelier and Barre, CVS in Berlin, and Northfield Pharmacy. The state’s website showed some vaccination appointments for the Moderna two-shot vaccine around the state, but none in Washington County or closely surrounding areas.
Scott said that while the state will not be receiving any new J&J vaccine this week, they do not expect overall supply to drop as they will be receiving “a slight increase in Pfizer and Moderna” vaccines.
Notwithstanding current obstacles, Smith noted that nearly 50 percent of all Vermonters have received at least one dose of one of the three vaccines and that the state is still on track to meet the benchmarks Scott laid out recently in order to fully reopen the state by July 4.