FEMA may be able to supply different COVID vaccine at 4 Florida vaccination sites amid J&J pause

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, public health officials in Florida were still trying to figure out how to make up for the doses they can no longer administer daily.

On Tuesday, the CDC and the FDA said that of the nearly 7 million doses of the single-shot J&J vaccine that had been administered so far in the United States, six women developed a rare and severe type of blood clot after receiving the vaccine

The reports occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and in all six cases, the symptoms began six to 13 days after getting vaccinated. So far, no cases have been reported in more than 180 million people who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, both of which require two doses.

Since Tuesday, federally-supported vaccination sites in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville have not been able to offer J&J, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines -- with the exception of people returning for second-dose shots. All mobile vaccination events have been canceled at least until Saturday, April 17. The state’s effort to vaccinate people who are homebound has also been impacted by the pause on the J&J vaccine.

“After reviewing current supply, the state does not have enough Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to continue these events at the same capacity for this week,” Florida Division of Emergency Management spokesperson Samantha Bequer said in a statement.

On Thursday, Bequer said the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated it may be able to provide additional Pfizer vaccine doses to federally-supported sites in Florida if the use of the J&J vaccine is still paused.

“In the event the state does not receive further guidance from the CDC and the FDA by the end of this week, the state is preparing for next week’s allocation and determining how to supplement these efforts with Pfizer and Moderna,” said Bequer. “The goal remains to ensure all Floridians who want a vaccine, can receive one.”

The impact of the J&J vaccine pause goes beyond challenges with vaccine supply. The move has also left some feeling more hesitant about COVID-19 shots in general.

Mattie Robinson said she has still not reached a decision over whether herself -- and her kids -- will get the vaccine.

“I am just a little bit undecided,” said Robinson. “I know it’s different for everyone. It just made my decision go down even lower, even though we do have the two others out there.”

According to the CDC, the use of the J&J vaccine is paused for now because “safety systems that make sure vaccines are safe received a small number of reports of a rare and severe type of blood clot happening in people who go this vaccine.” But CDC officials also said they “do not know enough yet to say if the vaccine is related to or caused this health issue. To be extra careful, CDC and FDA recommend that the vaccine not be given until we learn more.”

In a statement Thursday, the chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson said, “We continue to believe in the positive benefit-risk profile of our vaccine.”

According to the CDC, those who develop a severe headache, backache, new neurologic symptoms, severe abdominal pain, shortness of breath, leg swelling, tiny red spots on the skin or new easy bruising should seek medical care urgently.

On a joint call between the CDC and FDA on Tuesday, the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA said the pause also gives scientists a chance to review the data and decide if recommendations on who should get the vaccine need to change. In addition, public health officials can inform medical care providers about the different treatment required for this type of severe and rare blood clot.

“The issue here with these types of blood clots is that if one administers the standard treatments that we as doctors have learned to give for blood clots, one can actually cause tremendous harm or the outcome can be fatal. So one needs to make sure that providers are aware that if they see people who have low blood platelets or if they see people who have blood clots, they need to inquire about a history of recent vaccination and then act accordingly,” said Dr. Peter Marks.

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