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Despite Johnson & Johnson Vaccination Halt, California Officials Expect No Significant Impact

Andrew Nixon
Chia Lor of Sacramento gets a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from R.N. Sarah Smoot at Luther Burbank High School on Tuesday April 13, 2021.

California is directing vaccine clinics to hold off on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following a federal health recommendation to stop using the single-dose shot after six women reported getting “a rare and severe blood clot.” One of the women died and a second is in critical condition.

California state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said the state is pausing administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” and it will last “until we receive further direction from health and safety experts.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday the pause is not expected to have a significant impact on California’s vaccine allocation or plans to reopen by mid-June — a plan that is contingent on adequate vaccine supply. Many county officials agreed, saying they have adequate supply to keep vaccinating residents without major interruptions.

Just 4% of the state’s current allocation is from Johnson & Johnson, he said.

“It will not materially impact our ability to fulfill our expectations and commitment to provide enough vaccine to fully vaccinate all those that seek to get vaccinated, so that we can begin to more fully open our economy by June 15,” the governor said during a stop in Butte County to sign a wildfire prevention funding package.

The stoppage will not impact the state’s plans to expand eligibility to all Californians aged 16 and older on Thursday, Newsom added. He noted many counties have already expanded eligibility on their own.

Newsom said 8,800 Californians had appointments to receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot through the MyTurn website, all of which were being converted to different vaccines “in real time.”

The governor received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this month and sought to assure people of the vaccine’s safety. Nearly seven million people have been injected with the Johnson & Johnson shot, and so far, only the six women — who all lived outside of California and were between 18 and 48 years old — have reported having blood clots weeks after.

“That is quite literally one in a million,” he said. “These vaccines are extraordinarily safe and effective.”

A Western states vaccine review group plans to convene Tuesday evening to discuss the decision, Newsom said.

Many counties said their allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine was low enough that they would be able to backfill with Moderna and Pfzer shots through the week.

“It turns out Johnson & Johnson is really just a very small percentage of our overall vaccine distribution allocation,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County’s interim health officer. “So the vast majority of all of our vaccine clinics will not be affected and the vast majority of appointments will still be honored and kept.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote on Twitter that appointments at permanent city vaccination sites wouldn’t be impacted, and that patients at the city’s mobile clinics would receive a first dose of Pfizer. The city on Tuesday expanded vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older.

A Butte County spokesperson said the county did not receive any Johnson & Johnson shots this week, but that a Chico clinic was being rescheduled for Saturday in order to administer Moderna doses.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento County, some 800 Johnson & Johnson appointments for Tuesday and Wednesday at Cal Expo were canceled, and patients were sent a link to sign up for a later appointment. “We will review all scheduled J&J clinics for the week and accommodate as seamlessly as possible,” Sacramento County spokesperson Janna Haynes said.

Just hours before a Tuesday morning vaccine clinic was set to begin at Luther Burbank High School in South Sacramento, the county scrambled to switch out 4,500 Johnson & Johnson doses with 3,000 Pfizer shots.

Dr. Vohra, with Fresno County, stressed the rarity of the blood clots.

“I know this is making a lot of headlines right now, but in perspective, this is still considered an extraordinarily rare development in the overall scheme of vaccinations,” Vohra said.

That federal authorities recommended a temporary pause in vaccinations “really speaks to the fact that these vaccines are perhaps the most scrutinized medical products in the whole history of medicine.”

He added: “The right thing is being done. A pause is absolutely appropriate. But we shouldn’t misinterpret this pause as at all a reflection on the quality control that’s happening.”

Health officials urged anyone who has recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to contact their health care provider if they experience symptoms such as severe headache, leg pain, abdominal pain or shortness of breath.