The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been paused for use until further notice, and officials on the North Olympic Peninsula are working to rearrange planned clinics to later dates or to use the Moderna vaccine instead.
The pause in use of the one-shot J&J vaccine was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early Tuesday. The state Department of Health adopted the measure soon afterward.
Pausing the vaccine will allow for an investigation of a connection between the vaccine and six women younger than 50 who suffered a severe side effect of blood clots combined with low platelet counts, according to a state press release.
Nearly 7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered nationwide, with 149,000 doses administered in Washington state.
All of the women showed symptoms of the blood clots one to three weeks after they received the J&J vaccine. One died from the clots and one was hospitalized, according to the state.
People who received the vaccine less than three weeks ago who develop a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath after vaccination should contact their health care provider, the state said.
People who received the vaccine more than a month ago are at a very low risk of complications as of Tuesday, the state said.
No definitive cause of the clots had been identified as of Tuesday. But the FDA said a probable cause is a rare immune response to the vaccine, according to the state.
While the blood clots are concerning, rare one-in-a-million side effects are expected in the medical field, and pausing vaccinations to investigate the cause is the appropriate measure, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
“We don’t know for certain that these cases of blood clots are linked to the vaccine, but it’s certainly a possibility because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine bears a lot of similarities with AstraZeneca vaccine, and they’ve seen this type of complication in Europe,” Locke said.
“It’s really important that we should take a pause to implement the monitoring system for this and make sure that health care providers know how to treat it.
“We think it’s very likely that the vaccine will come back online,” Locke added.
He estimated the investigation may take only a few days to a week, while Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Berry estimated it could take weeks.
The J&J vaccination clinic that was scheduled at Jefferson Healthcare for Thursday — the day that those 16 and older are eligible for vaccination statewide — has been canceled, and appointments for the April 21 clinic have been paused.
Those affected can make appointments for the Moderna clinic scheduled for April 23, said Amy Yaley, Jefferson Healthcare spokesperson.
Those who already had appointments for the April 21 clinic still have that appointment set, while the hospital awaits further word from the CDC, but they are also able to schedule appointments for the April 23 clinic, Yaley said.
Appointments for Jefferson Healthcare’s clinics can be made at jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.
The J&J clinic scheduled for this Sunday at Port Angeles High School has changed to offer Moderna’s vaccine instead for those who’ve made appointments, Berry said.
Those who registered for Sunday’s clinic and don’t want the two-dose Moderna vaccine are asked to call the Clallam County Emergency Operations Center at 360-417-2430 to cancel their appointment, Berry said.
While the Moderna vaccine is recommended to be given in two doses, recent studies have shown the first dose appears to provide as much protection as the J&J vaccine, so people could choose to get one dose. However, it is still urged people receive both doses, Berry said.
Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is contacting those who registered for its J&J clinics to offer them a Moderna date option, said Brent Simcosky, Jamestown health services director.
Berry and Locke urged those who have already received the J&J vaccine not to panic. They should monitor themselves for any of the symptoms listed and get medical attention if they do develop symptoms of the blood clots.
“This does appear to be a very rare finding, a less than one-in-a-million chance happening,” Berry said, “which means that the risk of getting severely ill with COVID-19 is still higher than risks of clots from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if that connection is even found to be true.
“In fact, the risk of clots from birth control is about a thousand times more likely than from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and many people still take birth control.”
Jefferson County Public Health and the county Department of Emergency Management will operate an appointment-only Moderna vaccination clinic on Saturday at the Chimacum School District Multi-Purpose Room. Appointments can be made at bit.ly/jeffcovax or by calling 360-344-9791.
Forks Community Hospital has a Moderna vaccination clinic scheduled for April 30. More information can be found at ForksHospital.org.
Clallam County confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, while Jefferson County held with no new cases.
Jefferson County has confirmed 16 cases so far in April, about 4.42 percent of the 362 cases in the past year, according to county Public Health data.
Clallam County has confirmed 73 cases of COVID-19 so far this month, about 6.14 percent of the 1,138 cases during the past year, according to county data.
Thirty-seven COVID-19 cases were active as of Tuesday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had eight active cases with one currently hospitalized.
Clallam County is in the state’s high-risk category with a case rate of 95 per 100,000 population for the last two weeks as of Tuesday, while Jefferson County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of about 53 per 100,000 for the two weeks prior as of Saturday.