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CORONAVIRUS

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be paused in Rhode Island

Though there have been no reports of severe blood clotting from the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in R.I., health officials have opted to temporarily stop administering it in the state.

The COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, is at Rhode Island Hospital.
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, is at Rhode Island Hospital.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s health officials said Tuesday that they would temporarily stop administering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Rhode Island, shortly after the US recommended a “pause” in order to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

In a previously scheduled meeting on Tuesday morning, the state vaccine subcommittee said they were still figuring out how this news would impact the allocations to Rhode Island, as well as upcoming clinics and appointments. But “due to this information, we are going to pause” the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state, they said.

At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, approximately 7,600 appointments were scheduled to be released on vaccinateri.org. According to Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the state health department, no Johnson & Johnson appointments had been scheduled for release Tuesday. He said the state health department is directing vaccinators not administering Johnson & Johnson doses, also known as the Janssen vaccine, at any appointments that had already been made, and said additional information will soon be shared regarding people who had already made appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The state health department said there have been no reports of adverse effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Rhode Island.

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“Being less than an hour into this information, we definitely need to get together operationally,” and figure out how best to adjust in the next few hours, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the director of the state health department in the subcommittee meeting.

Alexander-Scott said she will have conversations with the state’s federal partners on Tuesday in order to find out how to compensate for the loss of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Rhode Island was scheduled to receive 2,000 Johnson & Johnson doses this week, which was down from 6,000 doses from last week and 16,000 from the week before. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating severe blood clots in six women in the days after vaccination. Alexander-Scott explained in a Tuesday afternoon press conference that those women were between the ages of 18 and 48.

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Tom McCarthy, executive director of the COVID-19 response team at the state health department, said the state still had 1,400 carry-over doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from last week. He explained to a Globe reporter that the Rhode Islanders that were scheduled to receive a Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still have the opportunity to be vaccinated this week.

“We have enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to cover all of those people,” said McCarthy. He said the time and date of these appointments will not change, but the type of vaccine they receive will.

He said he does not anticipate any changes to the state’s eligibility timeline, which is set to make all Rhode Islanders over the age of 16 eligible for the vaccine on April 19.

McCarthy said Rhode Island will continue to receive approximately 52,000 to 55,000 doses each week from both Pfizer and Moderna, which doesn’t include another 10,000 to 12,000 doses that the federal government sends directly to some retail pharmacies and some clinics. But, in the last two weeks, the state has been administering about 85,000 doses each week.

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“There is an impact. But we think we’re well positioned to rapidly shift,” said McCarthy.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and one of the nation’s leading public health experts, said that the pause was the right step to take.

“While unfortunate, it’s the right step. Central to vaccination success is ensuring people have confidence they are safe,” Jha tweeted Tuesday morning.

He went on to say that these events of central venous thrombosis are “very rare.”

“No vaccine (or drug) is perfect. But confidence is built on having a system that takes adverse events seriously, investigates them, makes data-driven decisions,” wrote Jha. “That’s what FDA/CDC doing. And its right.”

Jha said that he knows some people that will think this will cause more vaccine hesitancy, and will do more harm than good. But he isn’t so sure.

“My sense is confidence comes from people believing that we have a vigorous system that takes adverse events seriously,” wrote Jha. “We do. This is how it works.”

The news comes as Woonsocket-based CVS Health confirmed that it would be implementing a pause of all Johnson & Johnson vaccines at their participating pharmacies in the country, according to company spokesman Matt Blanchette.

Later Tuesday morning, Blanchette said that due to the pause, CVS is cancelling all appointments for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines at their retail pharmacies, and will email customers who had already made appointments. He said the company will follow up with affected customers to reschedule their appointments as soon as possible.

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Dr. Megan L. Ranney, an emergency physician at Rhode Island Hospital and director of the Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health tweeted Tuesday that these six cases of the cerebral venous sinus thrombosis plus low platelets would have never been picked up in clinical trials.

“If you catch COVID-19, you have an approximate 20 percent chance of getting a blood clot, according to a recent systematic review,” wrote Ranney. She notes that the real rate may be even lower than that. “What is indubitably true right now is that COVID-19 cases are rising in the U.S. and across the world, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very, very good at preventing disease [and] excellent at preventing severe disease and death.”

As of Monday, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the US, according to the FDA, and only 31,000 doses have been administered in Rhode Island.



Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.