The Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday morning asked the state’s vaccine providers to immediately stop administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
That came as federal health agencies said they are viewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in people who received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. The blood clots have affected women ages 18 to 48.
Johnson & Johnson shots have been a small part of the vaccination campaign in the Pacific Northwest so far, with 81,255 Oregonians having received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, out of almost 1.5 million who are fully or partially vaccinated. About 149,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in Washington state, out of more than 4 million doses total there.
For people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a month or more ago, the risk is very low, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who experience severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of getting the shot should contact their health care provider.
The pause adds another wrinkle to efforts across Oregon to get harder-to-reach groups vaccinated: rural Oregonians, agricultural workers, nursing home residents and staff, prisoners, and homeless people, among them.
In Morrow County, emergency managers made a spur of the moment decision to cancel the last day of an eight-day mobile vaccination clinic, organized with support from FEMA, that had been administering the Johnson & Johnson shot.
The clinic was a pilot project meant to vaccinate agricultural workers and other harder-to-reach community members in a rural county that is almost 40% Hispanic and has struggled with a high rate of COVID-19 infections and a low vaccination rate.
“It’s so disappointing. So frustrating,” Morrow County Commissioner Melissa Lindsay said. “This morning we had a small line of cars waiting and we had to cancel. We were planning on sending our leftover doses to Malheur County – about 1,100 of them. Now we’re not sure.”
Lindsay said the unused doses won’t go to waste; they are are secured and refrigerated and have a June expiration date.
Across the state, many vaccinators said the increasing supply of the two other COVID-19 shots - made by Pfizer and Moderna/ BioNTech - will blunt the impact of the pause.
The Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, in Washington County, said the Johnson had starting offering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on a limited basis in a single clinic. Patients will be offered the Moderna shot instead.
“It does not require a complete reset of any of our processes in our clinics, just an adjustment,” said spokeswoman Kasi Woidyla.
The health center plans to reach out to the 744 people who received the J&J shot with information and resources about what the pause means.
In Malheur county, on Oregon’s border with Idaho, public health officials said they are moving forward with all planned vaccination clinics and have enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to offer those in place of the Johnson & Johnson shot.
“I think that it’s really important that people understand that this pause is an indication of how rigorous the science is and the safety measures that are in place,” said Sarah Poe, the county public health director. “This pause is going to extraordinary lengths to make sure people have all the information, even about something that is incredibly rare.
Poe said it’s been helpful to offer people the more convenient option of a single-dose vaccine. With the Johnson and Johnson vaccine unavailable, the public health department will try to give people more flexiblity around when and where they schedule their second doses.
The freeze on Johnson & Johnson vaccination efforts prompted the national group that represents long-term-care providers to call for an immediate re-allocation of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to nursing homes, assisted living and other care facilities.
“Unfortunately, today’s development essentially halts vaccinations in long-term care, as the federal government was primarily allocating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to nursing homes and assisted living communities,” said Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living. “Without swift action to replace these vaccines, we could see tragic consequences.”
Long-term care facilities were among the first in Oregon to receive the Pfizer vaccine when it became available in December, but the pharmacy partnership program that was delivering those initial shots has ended.
But one Oregon based pharmacy disputed that the pause will slow the pace of vaccinations for care facilities.
Consonus Pharmacies, a specialty pharmacy that serves long-term care, announced that it is fully stocked with the Pfizer vaccine.
“If you are a Consonus customer and were expecting to be receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, it will now be substituted with Pfizer,” the company said.
This is a developing story. Watch for updates.