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UPDATE: Wisconsin DHS says J&J pause should be short, will not greatly affect supply of vaccines

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 11:55 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is instructing Wisconsin vaccine providers to stop administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to a federal review of adverse side effects reported.

The Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis have been reported in the U.S. out of 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses given.

“We are pausing administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of an abundance of caution. At this time, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “Vaccine providers should not administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at this time, and should hold on to the vaccine until federal review has been completed.”

At a press conference Tuesday, state health leaders said the pause in Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is likely only for a few days. The DHS says it’s a sign that oversight is working to make sure nothing unsafe is happening without a second look.

“We’re really hopeful that it will be a fairly short pause to ascertain if there are any more of these events and then to prepare our healthcare providers for treating them if they occur,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.

The department of health services is planning to help providers better understand the rare blood clots believed to be linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“It’s in all of our interests to really understand in a great amount of detail to communicate what we know about it to all of our provider colleagues so they can communicate the risks and be prepared to treat it with their patients,” said Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard.

State health experts say patients feeling flu-like symptoms within a few days of getting a vaccine is normal, and a blood clot would likely happen within a few weeks of getting the vaccine.

“The symptoms we really want people to look for if they are within a month of their vaccine are severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, back pain, and changes in vision,” said Van Dijk.

The DHS says this shouldn’t affect the effort to vaccinate people quickly, which is still a priority. Wisconsin was already due to lose some of its Johnson & Johnson supply starting this week and continuing into May because of issues at a factory producing it.

The single-dose shot could only have made up about 2% of the state’s supply this week, compared to the other 98% made up of Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose shots.

“Next week, we only thought we were going to get 3,000 doses of the vaccine, 3,000 doses of J&J, while we maintain 140,000, 150,000 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna,” said Van Dijk.

She says getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a decision people need to weigh for themselves.

But Van Dijk says she wants people to understand the relative risk of getting an incredibly rare blood clot compared with getting Coronavirus.

“This risk of this rare event is about 1 in a million for this vaccine. the risk of getting COVID in the United States is 1 in 10. The risk of dying from COVID is 1 in 600 in the United States,” she said.

Wisconsin has administered about 156,000 doses of J&J, and the DHS does not yet have any record of severe blood clots in those who received a dose in the state.

The DHS says even though these clots are incredibly rare, transparency is a priority. You can check in and document any reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine by registering at vsafe.cdc.gov.

Vaccine providers should continue to hold the vaccine at proper storage and continue timely reporting of any adverse events to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS)(link is external). This pause will allow CDC to determine if there are any further cases of this clotting disorder and to provide health care providers with guidance on how to treat this rare condition.

“There is still a lot to learn about how the vaccine might cause the problems that occurred in the six patients, which included blood clots around the brain and low platelets, but they do appear to be very rare,” said Dr. Westergaard. “For residents who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, be in contact with your health care provider if you have a severe headache or new vision problems during the first two weeks after receiving the vaccine.”

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines continue to remain extremely safe vaccines. DHS encourages everyone eligible to get the vaccine to continue with their vaccination, especially in light of variants. Wisconsin continues to have a good supply of these vaccines; 96% of the doses administered in the state have been Pfizer and Moderna.

“So far, there have been no reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis with low platelets in anyone who has received one of the mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines,” said Dr. Westergaard. “The FDA, CDC, and DHS continue to recommend the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at this time, while the adverse events related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine continue to be investigated.”

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