Area health departments pause Johnson and Johnson vaccine administration

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Tuesday morning, area health departments took swift action in halting the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine administration, following recommendations by national healthcare agencies.

Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a joint recommendation to pause the Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine administration.

Following the recommendation, both the Berrien County Health Department and Van Buren/Cass District Health Department announced they would be halting the administration of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. All previously scheduled appointments for this week at a Johnson and Johnson clinic will be switched to Moderna and Pfizer two-dose vaccines at this time, and health officials are encouraging residents to keep their appointments.

“We are following the CDC and FDA recommendations,” said Gillian Conrad, communications manager for the Berrien County Health Department.

The CDC and FDA’s announcement comes as the agencies are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of an “extremely rare and severe” type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. To date, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine have been administered.

“Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare, and there have not been any reported adverse events reported in Berrien County after the administration of the J&J vaccine,” said Nicki Britten, health officer at the Berrien County Health Department. “COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for all vaccine providers, and we are assured that the data is being reviewed swiftly by the experts.”

“The state of Michigan is stopping use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine until we have more information on the few incidents of concern and clear recommendations on future use,” said Dr. Larry Wile, medical director with the Van Buren/Cass District Health Department. “Our health department has been using Moderna vaccine for the entire duration of the vaccine rollout in Van Buren and Cass County with great success. The latest news does not change the fact that COVID-19 vaccination overall is safe and effective. Millions have been vaccinated. We encourage the community to continue to take advantage of the benefits of getting a vaccine.”

The CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, both the Berrien and Van Buren/Cass health departments will cease administering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Each of the six cases under review nationwide occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination, according to a joint statement released by the FDA and CDC. Those who have developed severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after their Johnson and Johnson vaccination should contact their health care provider.

At this time, Conrad said the halting of Johnson and Johnson vaccinations would not slow down Berrien County’s vaccination efforts, as the health department has enough Pfizer and Modern vaccines to cover already scheduled appointments. Now, the health department would be awaiting guidance regarding the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to understand how it will affect future efforts.

“At least this week, there will not be significant impacts felt,” she said.

As of Tuesday, 40 percent of Berrien County residents had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are moving full steam ahead,” Conrad said. “We want to encourage our residents to continue to choose safe and effective vaccines so that we can fight [COVID-19].”

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