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The Garden Island: CDC halts J&J vaccine due to rare blood clotting

April 14, 2021

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i health officials are putting a pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine distribution until further notice following an announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggesting a halt to all J&J vaccines.

But the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is continuing throughout the state.

The suspension comes after the CDC and the federal Food and Drug Administration said they were investigating unusual clots that occurred six to 13 days after vaccination with the J&J vaccine.

The rare clots occurred in six women out of the more than 7.2 million adults who’ve received the shot. One of the patients died and another remains hospitalized in serious condition.

The acting FDA commissioner said Tuesday she expected the pause to last a matter of days.

Most people vaccinated in Hawai‘i have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which each require two doses. The J&J vaccine only needs one dose.

Tuesday, state Department of Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said Hawai‘i was scheduled to receive only 2,600 doses of the J&J vaccine this week, so the pause won’t significantly disrupt the state’s vaccination plans.

Sites that were set to use the J&J vaccine will switch to the Moderna vaccine, for the most part, Char said, with some sites also using the Pfizer vaccine.

“(We) wanted to reassure our community that we’re vaccinating safely across Hawai‘i, and we want to encourage people to still get vaccinated,” Char said on Tuesday. “This is a setback for us. But we really, we still want people to get vaccinated to be protected for themselves and also protect their families from COVID.”

According to Char, the state received 47,000 J&J vaccines a month ago, and has administered over 17,000 vaccines statewide, leaving 30,000 single doses on hold.

“We’ll keep it in safe storage at the proper temperature control,” Char said, “and just wait for the science and the data and see where we go from there. Whatever the guidance is, if it’s suited better for certain populations or not at all.”

According to the Kaua‘i District Health Office, over 3,000 J&J doses were administered on Kaua‘i between Mar. 15 through April 12.

Char said Hawai‘i still expects to meet the Biden administration’s target of opening vaccinations to everyone 16 and older beginning Monday.

So far, 32% of Hawai‘i’s population has received at least one vaccine dose.

“My staff and I are closely monitoring reports that six recipients of the Johnson &Johnson vaccine in the United States have developed cases of a ‘rare and severe’ type of blood clot,” said U.S. Rep. Kaiali‘i Kahele said.

According to Kahele, as of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the United States.

“Although six reported cases out of 6.8 million vaccine recipients represent an extremely small number, until we have more information I fully support the CDC and FDA’s decision to put the J&J vaccine on pause out of an abundance of caution,” said Kahele. “In Hawai‘i, the J&J vaccine has been widely used in recent weeks due to the convenience of a single-shot dose.”

Kahele urges those who received the J&J vaccine and develop a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination to contact their health-care provider.

“Although these adverse events of blood clotting appear to be extremely rare, the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine is a top priority for the federal government,” Kahele said.

“Confidence in the vaccine is built on having a system that transparently addresses adverse events seriously, investigates them and enacts data-driven decisions, which is exactly what our federal agencies are doing right now.”

Char said she was unaware of anyone in Hawai‘i developing severe reactions to any of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Six cases out of 6.8 million doses is very rare,” Char said.