How Could the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine Pause Affect You in the Bay Area?

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Home base primary care Pharmacist Erin Emonds filling syringes with the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine
The CDC and the FDA say the pause will allow them to investigate these reactions more. They also say it will help health care providers be ready to spot this rare blood clotting event and treat it appropriately.  (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

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Out of an “abundance of caution” the Food and Drug Administration has recommended a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine in the U.S. after a very rare type of blood clot showed up in six women within about two weeks of receiving the vaccination.

This news comes just as California is about to open up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all people 16 and older. So if you're in the Bay Area, and wondering how this affects you — whether you have an existing appointment, are trying to find a COVID-19 vaccine near you or already got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — we have answers.

How Small Are the Risks With the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine?

More on the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

More than 6.8 million people in the U.S. have received the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine, so these are very, very small risks statistically. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that all six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. Among the six women, one case was fatal and one patient is in critical condition.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not being “recalled,” "banned" or “canceled.” The agency said it expects this pause to last for "a matter of days.”

"The relative risk is really, really low for these severe blood clots," said Dr. Catherine Blish, infectious disease specialist at Stanford Medicine. "So we've had the six cases out of almost 7 million vaccines delivered, which is about one in a million. And while this has been hugely controversial, the birth control pills are associated with about one in 1,000 to [one in 100] rate of blood clots."

If the Johnson & Johnson Risks Are So Small, Why Are the CDC and FDA Recommending the Pause?

The CDC and the FDA say the pause will allow them to investigate these reactions more. They also say it will help health care providers be ready to spot this rare blood clotting event and treat it appropriately.

To repeat: More than 6.8 million people in the U.S. have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The blood clots showed up in six women. But because of the rare nature of these types of clots, health officials emphasize that they should not be treated the way other clots often are.

Most importantly, Dr. Peter Marks, the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA said doctors should avoid using heparin, a standard blood-thinning treatment, because in these clots it "can cause tremendous harm, or the outcome can be fatal."

The need for specialized treatment is one reason the CDC and the FDA saw an urgent need to get the word out about this rare combination of side effects.

Medical experts say this kind of pause happens a lot and is "totally normal" and reasonable in order to investigate these extremely rare cases. Regulators don't know whether the six cases are related to the vaccine, and they need to do a deep dive into the individual patients to determine what's going on.

What About the Other COVID-19 Vaccines?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one of the three vaccines that’s been available in the U.S., along with Pfizer and Moderna. No similar issues have been reported for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

A similar issue has occurred in Europe with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not authorized in the U.S. J&J and AstraZeneca use a different type of vaccine system than Pfizer and Moderna.

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I Got the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine. Do I Need to Look Out for Problems?

If you got your Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot less than three weeks ago, you should look out for severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek treatment with your health provider, an urgent care clinic or a hospital emergency room.

Remember, the number of people affected is very, very small.

If you got your shot more than three weeks ago, and you have experienced none of these symptoms, you likely do not need to worry about your J&J vaccine.

How Does the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Affect the Bay Area?

All nine Bay Area counties confirmed by April 14 that they are momentarily halting the use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine made up a relatively small proportion of the doses being given out in the Bay Area, and supply was already expected to fall this week because of issues at the vaccine manufacturing plant. In a statement, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that “less than 4%” of California’s vaccine allocation this week is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Getting a Vaccine in the Bay Area

Officials at the Oakland Coliseum mass vaccination site have confirmed that location switched over to the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday, and so is unaffected by this pause.

Kaiser Permanente has informed its members that they “expect this pause to decrease vaccine supply and the number of vaccine appointments we can offer,” and that the health system will “continue to monitor guidance from federal and state health officials.”

If I Have an Existing Appointment for the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, What Should I Do?

Several of the Bay Area county officials contacted by KQED confirmed that they are planning to swap out planned doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with doses of Pfizer or Moderna. In some cases, officials said they would reschedule existing appointments.

In a statement released April 13, Alameda County mentioned the possibility that existing appointments might be canceled, but the county is now reaching out by email to many of those affected and offering them simple ways to make a new appointment for a different vaccine.

If you have an existing appointment for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and you haven’t heard from your provider, don’t assume you won’t be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine at your appointment. Keep watching your email inbox for any notifications from your scheduled vaccine provider, or contact your county if you’re concerned about cancellation.

KQED's Katrin Snow, Peter Arcuni and Lesley McClurg contributed to this story

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