SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah officials are calling on the state’s vaccine providers to temporarily pause the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine following guidance from U.S. officials.
Early Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended the pause on the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.
Over 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S., according to the Utah Department of Health, with six people reportedly experiencing blood clots.
In Utah, nearly 77,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered – there have been no reports of blood clots among these patients.
“Even though these cases have occurred in just one out of every one-million people who have received the vaccine, and even though it will slow our efforts to vaccinate Utah residents against COVID-19, calling for this pause is the right thing to do,” says Rich Saunders, UDOH executive director. “It’s critical the public be confident in the COVID-19 vaccines, and in order to build and maintain that confidence reports like these must be taken seriously and fully investigated to determine what role, if any, the vaccine played.”
UDOH says it will coordinate closely with the FDA and CDC in the coming days to determine how to move forward based on the review of the situation by both agencies.
Within Utah, COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna represent the significant majority of doses – over 1.8 million, according to UDOH – administered and are unaffected by this announcement.
U.S. federal distribution channels, including mass vaccination sites, will pause the use of the J&J shot, and states and other providers are expected to follow.
The FDA and CDC 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.
The J&J vaccine received emergency use authorization from the FDA in late February with hopes that its single-dose and relatively simple storage requirements would speed vaccinations across the country. Yet the shot only makes up a small fraction of the doses administered in the U.S. as J&J has been plagued by production delays and manufacturing errors at the Baltimore plant of a contractor.
Last week the drugmaker took over the facility to scale up production in hopes of meeting its commitment to the U.S. government of providing about 100 million doses by the end of May.
Until now concern about the unusual blood clots has centered on the vaccine from AstraZeneca, which has not yet received authorization in the U.S. Last week, European regulators said they found a possible link between the shots and a very rare type of blood clot that occurs together with low blood platelets, one that seems to occur more in younger people.
The European Medicines Agency stressed that the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweigh the risks for most people. But several countries have imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine; Britain recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives.
But the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines are made with the same technology. Leading COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the spike protein that coats the outer surface of the coronavirus. But the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines use a cold virus, called an adenovirus, to carry the spike gene into the body. J&J uses a human adenovirus to create its vaccine while AstraZeneca uses a chimpanzee version.
The announcement hit U.S. stock markets immediately, with Dow futures falling almost 200 points just over two hours before the opening bell. Shares of Johnson & Johnson dropped almost 3%.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.