Utah Department of Health calls for a ‘pause’ in use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

State joins the CDC and FDA in making the call after six women suffer rare blood clots.

(Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare) A nurse gives a jab of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at The Orthopedic Surgical Hospital (TOSH) in Murray on Thursday, March 4, 2021 — the first day the new single-shot vaccine was available in Utah.

Although there have been no reports of problems with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Utah, the state health department is joining federal agencies in recommending that providers “temporarily pause” using it.

The recommendation comes in the wake of reports that six women between ages 18 and 48 suffered unusual blood clots six to 13 days after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the women suffered cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in combination with low levels of blood platelets — the clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain. One woman died.

Although the vaccine has not been determined to be the cause of the blood clots, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are recommending the pause “out of an abundance of caution” as they review the six cases. More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the United States.

According to the Utah Department of Health, almost 77,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered in Utah, and there have been no reports of blood clots.

UDOH Executive Director Rich Saunders said “calling for this pause is the right thing to do,” even though the blood clots have occurred in fewer than one person in a million who have received the J&J vaccine. And he acknowledged that the pause “will slow our efforts to vaccinate Utah residents against COVID-19.”

According to UDOH, a total of more than 1.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the state. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine represents 4.3% of that total — the other 95.7% were either Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Dr. Richard Orlandi, the University of Utah’s associate chief medical officer for ambulatory health, acknowledged that this pause — along with similar issues with blood clots raised by the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe — could make some patients even more skittish than before about getting vaccinated.

“Certainly vaccine hesitancy is already an issue that we’re seeing, and this isn’t going to help,” Orlandi said. He added that the safety records for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines remain strong, and “the risk of the coronavirus, in my mind, far outweighs the risk of the vaccination with Pfizer and Moderna.”

Saunders said it’s “critical the public be confident in the COVID-19 vaccines, and in order to build and maintain that confidence, reports like these must be taken seriously and fully investigated to determine what role, if any, the vaccine played.”

The pause raises “additional concern,” Orlandi said, for underrepresented communities — such as rural areas, people experiencing homelessness, and some minority populations — where the single-dose J&J vaccine was seen as an advantage.

“We’re going to have to redouble our efforts,” Orlandi said, “to reach those patients with the [two-dose] Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, as a state.”

University of Utah Health has appointments to give the J&J vaccine to about 400 patients this week, said Orlandi. Those patients will be offered the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, or they can delay their appointment until the single-doses J&J vaccine is available.

The U. health system has given out some 7,000 doses of the J&J vaccine so far, with no cases of blood clotting, said Kavish Choudhary, director of pharmacy at University of Utah Health. Choudhary said 92% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses the system has given out have been of the Pfizer version.