Maryland health officials instructed state vaccination sites Tuesday to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine as federal government officials review six reported cases of an extremely rare and severe type of blood clot found in recipients of the immunization.
But what about people who have already received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose? What about those with upcoming appointments? Here is what to know.
Why was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine paused?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, six women in the United States, all between ages 18 and 48, have developed a rare blood-clotting disorder within about two weeks of vaccination.
The agencies say they will study a potential link between the vaccines and the disorder and decide whether to revoke or limit Johnson & Johnson’s authorization. They also will educate providers on how to recognize and treat this potential side effect.
“This [pause] is important, in part, to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot,” officials from the CDC and FDA said in a joint statement.
How common is the side effect?
The clotting issue has been extremely, extremely rare.
Of about 6.8 million Americans who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, only six have experienced the apparent side effect. That translates to fewer than one in a million or 0.000088% — lower than the odds someone will be struck by lightning in their lifetime.
Gov. Larry Hogan said none of the six cases involved Maryland residents.
What if I’m scheduled for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Several Maryland vaccine providers said Tuesday they would comply with state directives and halt the use of Johnson & Johnson.
The Baltimore City Health Department said Johnson & Johnson represents a small fraction of its inventory, with a majority made up by Moderna. The department said the halt would not significantly impact its operations.
Baltimore County said all who had appointments to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at its clinics would receive the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines instead until further notice.
Montgomery County Health officials said they also would stop using Johnson & Johnson at the mass vaccination clinic in Germantown, the vaccine’s only point of distribution in the county. The clinic will switch to the Pfizer vaccine.
At Hagerstown’s mass vaccination clinic, officials said they would also switch to the Pfizer vaccine, and would be able to honor all appointments made at least for Tuesday.
Kevin Lindamood, president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore, recently decided to use only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of the ease of the one-dose regimen for those experiencing homelessness or living in shelters but will switch back to Moderna until federal officials provide more guidance.
What if I have already gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
In Maryland, 173,534 people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Given the extreme rarity of the potential blood clotting side effect, people who recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine almost certainly will not have significant issues.
That said, the FDA and CDC recommend that anyone who has had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and developed severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within two weeks should contact a health provider.
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Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, the type of blood clot reportedly found in the six Johnson & Johnson cases, occurs when a blood clot forms in the brain and leads to hemorrhages. The symptoms are similar to those of strokes, such as headache, blurred vision, loss of mobility, seizures or fainting.
Are Johnson & Johnson recipients still considered vaccinated?
Yes. Concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine relate to side effects, not its ability to prevent COVID-19. Therefore anyone who has received the vaccine is considered protected and does not need to seek another dose.
What about the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines?
The two other vaccines authorized in the United States, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have not been linked with blood-clotting or any similar issues. Appointments to receive those vaccines will continue as scheduled.
“We’re still full-steam-ahead for everyone to be vaccinated,” Geballe said.
How long will the Johnson & Johnson pause last?
No one knows exactly how long the Johnson & Johnson pause will last, but officials said Tuesday it could be as short as a few days.
“The timeframe will depend obviously on what we learn in the next few days,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said Tuesday. “However, we expect it to be a matter of days for this pause.”
Federal officials said they will provide regular updates in the coming days.