RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia will temporarily stop administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women out of roughly 7 million vaccine recipients developed a rare condition that included blood clots.
One of those women, a Virginia resident, died in March, officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon.
The federal government had already announced Tuesday morning that it was stopping administration of the vaccine at federal sites as officials investigate “out of an abundance of caution.”
Virginia Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula emphasized that this possible side effect is still very rare. Millions of people have taken the vaccine and the vast majority have mild or no side effects. The vaccine also provides strong protection against COVID-19, and all three vaccines in the U.S. have shown to completely prevent hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus.
“We are closely monitoring the actions by the federal government to pause all Johnson & Johnson vaccinations while it investigates an extremely rare possible side effect,” Avula said in a written statement Tuesday morning. “In Virginia, we will cease all Johnson & Johnson vaccines until this investigation is complete. If you have an upcoming appointment for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will be contacted to reschedule that appointment.”
Avula said Virginia will continue with both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the meantime, and said the pause is “reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working.”
It’s important again to note this pause is due to six people out of about 7 million. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said the clots in six women occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. The Virginia woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition, the New York Times reported.
Avula said the CDC confirmed to the Virginia Department of Health that it was examining the death of the Virginia woman as part of the investigation into possible adverse side effects of the J&J vaccine.
Her death was also reported to the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.
According to that system, the woman was 45 years old and was vaccinated March 6. She died March 18. The reporting system says she had a “Gradually worsening headache” and was taken to the hospital March 17 after the symptoms got worse. There, she has a brain hemorrhage and herniation.
Virginia was already set to receive significantly fewer doses this week, 14,800, compared to the 124,000 it was expected. Avula said at the time that lower supply would slow Virginia’s overall move into phase 2 of vaccinations, though Virginia is still expected to have shots for everyone 16 and over by April 18.
Dr. Avula said the pause of the J&J vaccine in Virginia will not impact the ability to move into phase 2, but will also slow down the process.
About 72,000 vaccine appointments were impacted by the pause, and 30 vaccination clinics will need to be postponed. Some clinics were able to quickly pivot and offer Pfizer or Moderna shots instead.
Avula said last week that the shortage of J&J vaccines will most affect the state’s vaccination efforts at colleges and universities. Some colleges such as Christopher Newport University are switching to the Moderna vaccine. Appointment times for those signed up for the Johnson & Johnson will not change. The Moderna vaccine is being administered Tuesday, April 13 and Wednesday, April 14. Appointments were still available as of Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, starting on April 18 the state’s pre-registration portal will switch to an open scheduler.
Those looking to receive a shot will be able to submit their information and pick the date and time of their appointment in one visit.
“We hope to open up appointments as far in advance as possible,” Avula said. “Ideally we’d like to have a three or four-week runway of appointments. The fluctuation of Johnson & Johnson allocation does make that a little bit more challenging but we know the number of first doses we’ll be receiving for Moderna and Pfizer at that time so we’ll at least be able to map out first dose appointments.”
On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam visited a school in Manassas where they switched from J&J to the Pfizer vaccine in light of the day’s developments.