J&J vaccine pause to continue as health advisers seek more data

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations will continue after U.S. health advisers told the government Wednesday that they need more evidence to decide if a handful of unusual blood clots were linked to the shot -- and if so, how big the potential risk really is.

During an emergency meeting Wednesday, health advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrestled with the fact that the U.S. has enough vaccine alternatives to do without the J&J vaccine for a time, but other countries anxiously awaiting the one-and-done shot may not.

Advisers hope to meet in a week to 10 days with more information.

On Tuesday, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration released a joint statement, recommending a temporary halt in administering J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine while the agencies examine six cases of rare blood clots that have been reported in women between the ages of 18 and 48.

“Right now, we believe these events to be extremely rare, but we are also not yet certain we have heard about all possible cases as this syndrome may not be easily recognized,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. We want people who have received the vaccine and their health care providers to be aware of these events and report them to the CDC and the FDA.”

RELATED: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine: Answers to your frequently asked questions

When the statement was released Tuesday morning, doctors were quick to caution that the complications were extremely rare, as more than 7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have now been administered in the U.S., the vast majority with no or mild side effects. Emphasized too is that the link between the clots and the vaccine has not yet been confirmed.

“We are trying to figure out right now is whether these unfortunate cases of clots are in fact related to the vaccine itself. The fact that this is being paused tells you about how seriously we’re taking adverse events and how safety is really a critical priority when it comes to moving this larger vaccine campaign forward,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

The Florida Department of Health reported Wednesday that 517,446 people had received the J&J shot in the state -- or 6.8% of everyone who has received at least one shot in Florida.

The numbers may help show a clearer picture of how many vaccinations were completed without adverse reactions. Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, said people have much less than a .05% chance of having complications from the vaccine, as the numbers stand currently.

According to health experts in Washington, D.C., the pace of vaccinations should continue as in the past even with the pause of J&J vaccinations.

Federal health authorities stress that there are no signs of the unusual clots with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

But for some, the idea that there was a problem with a vaccine that received FDA emergency approval is reason to be concerned. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci said what happened with the pause should show the system is working.

“It should reinforce in those individuals how we take safety so seriously. So as opposed to looking at this as a negative safety issue, it could be looked at as a positive issue where they know when we let a vaccine be available and give it a go-ahead to be put in the arms of the American people, we do it with a considerable degree of confidence as to its safety,” Fauci said.

At the federally-supported vaccination site at Gateway Mall in Jacksonville, only second-dose shots of the Pfizer vaccine were being given Wednesday after the site on Tuesday paused J&J shots. Meanwhile, at the state-run vaccination site at Regency Square Mall, where first- and second-dose shots of the Pfizer vaccine were being administered, there was a steady flow but no lines. Elizabeth Green-Eash got the shot at the advice of her doctor.

“I had some hesitation because I was too afraid. You know, I’m 68 years old. What if it takes me out, do you know what I mean?” she said. “It’s all for the best, and I wish I had done it sooner.”

Many young people in Jacksonville have told News4Jax they still need more convincing to believe all the vaccines are safe.

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