Drive-up vaccination
Drive-up vaccination in Southern California. MyNewsLA.com photo

Southland health agencies Tuesday complied with a federal recommendation to “pause” the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to the appearance of potentially dangerous blood clots in six people, but the halt will likely have minimal impact on local vaccination efforts.

The city of Los Angeles quickly announced it would halt the use of the vaccine at the vaccination sites it operates, affecting about 3,000 appointments scheduled for Tuesday. Mayor Eric Garcetti said, however, that no appointments would be canceled at city vaccination sites or mobile sites, with people who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine receiving a Pfizer vaccine instead.

“All COVID-19 vaccines are helping to stop the spread of the virus,” Garcetti said. “We continue to encourage eligible Angelenos to get vaccinated so we can end the pandemic as soon as possible.”

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health also announced it will adhere to the call by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. County officials said people who were expecting to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be contacted “about rescheduling or providing a new appointment for Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.”

The Long Beach Health Department also agreed to halt use of the J&J vaccine. City officials said the move would have no impact on vaccines at the Long Beach Convention Center, and people who had mobile clinic appointments for a J&J shot “will be contacted to be offered Pfizer or Moderna.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency also issued a statement saying it would follow the federal guidance and remove the vaccine from its vaccination sites until further notice. The OC HCA has dispensed about 27,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from March 8 through April 12.

The CDC and FDA on Tuesday morning recommended the pause in use of the vaccine so they could investigate the potentially dangerous blood clots that developed in six people — out of nearly 7 million doses that have been administered in the United States.

At a news conference, FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said the pause was being recommended out of an abundance of caution, stressing “these events appear to be extremely rare.”

The county Department of Public Health echoed that sentiment. It urged anyone who received the J&J shot in the past three weeks to “look for any symptoms of these unusual clots, including severe headaches, abdominal or leg pain and shortness of breath, and contact their medical provider if symptoms develop.”

The halt in the use of the vaccine in Los Angeles County will likely have minimal impact on overall vaccination efforts locally. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday the county had received only 19,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, out of an overall allotment of 323,470 — the rest being a combination of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Tens of thousands more doses of vaccines are directly allotted by the federal government to other providers in the county, such as pharmacies and large federally qualified health care centers, and it was unclear how many of those doses were Johnson & Johnson, but state officials said the percentage is very low.

Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist with the California Department of Public Health, said the state will adhere with the federal call for a pause in the use of the vaccine.

“As the federal government has said, we do not expect a significant impact to our vaccination allocations,” Pan said. “In California, less than 4% of our vaccine allocation this week is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

The city of Los Angeles said Sunday it still had 15,000 doses of the J&J vaccine on hand.

City Councilman Joe Buscaino said Tuesday morning the city’s mobile vaccination site in Wilmington had been set to administer the J&J vaccine, but will be using the Pfizer vaccine instead. The same switch will be made at other city sites, including the large-scale site at Cal State Los Angeles, which the city began operating this week after taking over for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

According to joint statement from the FDA and CDC, the federal government recommended the pause after six U.S. recipients — all women between the ages of 18 and 48 — developed serious blood clots within two weeks of getting vaccinated.

One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska was hospitalized in critical condition.

“We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, said.

“This 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.

The statement also emphasized that the adverse reactions to the J&J vaccine “appear to be extremely rare.”

“More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine have been administered in the U.S,” the statement said. “CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine.

“In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

“Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered. Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.”

The CDC will convene a meeting of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance.

Johnson & Johnson issued a statement saying, “The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority.”

“We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public,” according to the company. “The CDC and FDA have made information available about proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot. The health authorities advise that people who have received our COVID-19 vaccine and develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.”

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