PROVIDENCE — When federal health officials recommended this week to temporarily pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to review the six extremely rare cases of blood clots, officials said it was a necessary safety and oversight move.
Medical professionals reiterate that vaccines are subject to safety regulations, but some public health officials wonder if the headlines about the rare reaction —the clotting affects less than one out of every million people who receive the vaccine — could cause the public to become more hesitant about the shot when and if the pause is lifted.
Dr. Kirsten Hokeness, chairwoman of the science and technology department at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, said there are two main categories of people who are hesitant about getting the vaccine: those who are outright against it and those who fall in a “wait and see” category.
“I think that the situation with J&J will help solidify the fact that those individuals (who are against it) will not get vaccinated,” Hokeness said. “For those that fall into the ‘wait and see’ category, typically these individuals are waiting for more data, particularly safety data, before they strongly consider getting the vaccine. I think that this news will most likely impact these individuals the most and may prolong their decision-making process, but I do think it will be short-lived.”
JoAnne Camara of Bristol, Rhode Island, was supposed to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday. She said she has bad allergies and sensitivities that causes her to have to go to a special anaphylactic clinic to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I was hoping to get one and be done,” she said.
With the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines, she could have an anaphylactic reaction to the first shot, and then would not be able to get the second. It could leave her unprotected.
“I was thinking of not getting vaccinated at all, due to the side effects that it could have for me,” she said. But she’s still on the fence, she said, as her daughter is getting married this summer and she wants to be fully vaccinated to safely attend and be around family. She said she hopes the pause will soon be lifted.
The pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccines on the federal level could last for a few weeks as they review what happened. But in Rhode Island, where approximately 310,000 doses of the one-shot vaccine has already been administered, state health officials plan on going through their own review of the vaccine. The state still has about 3,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in storage.
Joseph Wendelken, the spokesman for the state health department, said the state will review the findings of the analysis at the federal level with local experts, including members of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee, which on Tuesday that said they accepted the recommendation by the federal government to pause the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state.
When asked when the state-level review might happen, Wendelken said in an email to the Globe: “We will certainly be very open with this process,” but that the federal review and vote had to be conducted first.
On Wednesday, the CDC’s Advisory Panel did not vote to lift the pause on the vaccine because they wanted to conduct a full-risk assessment before making a decision.
Health officials said no blood clots stemming from the vaccine were reported in Rhode Island or Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, the Rhode Island state health director, said that those who had received the shot about a month or more ago are at very low risk.
The six women who did have rare blood clots developed symptoms between six and 13 days after they received the shot. Alexander-Scott said that anyone who has received the vaccine and develops symptoms such as severe headache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, or leg pain within three weeks of receiving the vaccine should contact their health care provider.
Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the CDC, tweeted Wednesday, addressing how the pausing of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has led to questions.
“We made this decision out of an abundance of caution and because of our commitment to protecting people, to vaccine safety, and to science,” she wrote.
Local public health officials followed suit, including Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and one of the nation’s leading public health experts, who said it’s more likely to get hit by lightning this year than developing a blood clot from a vaccine.
3 key points for folks recently vaccinated with J&J— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) April 13, 2021
1. your risk of getting hit by lightning this year > your risk of developing blood clot from vaccine
2. Don't ignore a new severe headache, abd pain, or shortness of breath
3. Enjoy being vaccinated against a deadly disease
Hokeness said that consumers must weigh the safety and efficacy of the vaccine itself against the dangers presented by the virus.
“We have seen the virus wreak havoc across the globe, killing millions. In the case of J&J, we have observed one death thus far with the other vaccines showing to be very safe with very few adverse events,” she said. “The vaccine is incredibly important to protect not only individuals but the global community.”