State recommends pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine


By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

HARTFORD — State officials are recommending a pause on the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine while federal health officials investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots.

The state Department of Public Health on Tuesday advised vaccine providers planning to hold clinics using J&J to delay these clinics or offer an alternative vaccine if the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines are available to them.

Gov. Ned Lamont said representatives of the White House COVID-19 Task Force advised the nation’s governors in a conference call Tuesday that they expect to complete a review of the J&J vaccine in a matter of days.

“Hey look, just when you think you see the daylight, you see the end zone, COVID sometimes throws you one more curveball, but I think this is one where erring on the side of caution we’re going to be back to a normal state pretty soon,” he said during a mid-day news conference.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said they were investigating blood clots in six women that occurred in the days after receiving shots of the J&J vaccine. The clots were observed along with reduced platelet counts, adding to the potential medical risks.

None of the six women are from Connecticut, said Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the acting state commissioner of public health.

“It is a one in a million occurrence, one in a million,” Lamont said, “and right now the CDC and FDA said, ‘Let’s take a short pause. Take a look at this. Make sure we have all the answers before we get back to doing J&J along with mRNA.’ I’d like to think this will be resolved by the end of the week.”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Wednesday to discuss the blood clotting cases. The FDA has launched an investigation into the cause of the clots and low platelet counts.

Meanwhile, state officials are doing some contingency planning with vaccine providers around the Pfizer and Modena vaccines. One of the issues being worked out is the scheduling of the required second shot for each vaccine.

State health officials have advised providers to reach out to all individuals who were scheduled to come to a J&J clinic and inform them that their appointment will need to be rescheduled once administration of the J&J vaccine is recommended again.

MORE THAN 6.8 MILLION DOSES of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S., the vast majority with no or mild side effects.

In Connecticut, Gifford reported more than 100,000 people have receive the J&J vaccine shot. That represents roughly 4% of the more than 2.4 million vaccines doses that have been administered statewide.

Although the reported side effects being investigated are extremely rare, the FDA and CDC recommend that people who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.

While only a small fraction of the vaccine doses administered in Connecticut, the single-shot J&J vaccine was used heavily in the state’s efforts to vaccinate targeted populations and communities deemed vulnerable to COVID-19.

The public health concerns are sidelining a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and mobile vaccine vans run by Gifford Hospital that had been using the J&J vaccine.

At this time, only 13 of the 35 mobile vaccine vans from Griffin Hospital are deployed, Gifford said. The remainder are expected to be rolled out through the rest of April.

DPH officials said FEMA is modifying the schedule for its mobile clinic, and it will be offering an mRNA vaccine instead of J&J vaccine when it resumes. Also, Griffin Hospital suspended its mobile clinics Tuesday.

More information on the FEMA mobile unit and the Griffin vans will be forthcoming. Each mobile van is capable of administering 160 doses a day, and the FEMA unit can vaccinate at least 250 people every day.

According to the latest numbers, more than 980,000 Connecticut residents have been fully vaccinated, meaning a person has received a single shot of the J&J vaccine, or a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Gifford said the state will take a few additional weeks than previously expected to fully vaccinate all residents who are willing to be immunized. The recommended intervals between the first and second shot is three weeks for the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks for the Moderna vaccine.

“Remember, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are 85% effective after the first shot,” Lamont said.

He said his biggest concern is that some people will hold back from getting vaccinated because of the pause on the J&J vaccine.

“All the things that we do in health care carry some risks, whether you have a procedure, a surgery or take a medication. We weigh the benefits and risks,” Gifford said. “We certainly know there are tremendous benefits to these vaccines. And there are certainly risks of getting COVID, getting hospitalized, or even dying from COVID. So those things need to be kept in mind as well.”

STATE HEALTH OFFICIALS TUESDAY reported increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

There were 1,118 new cases reported out of 29,670 test results recorded Monday. This worked out to a positive test rate of nearly 3.8%. With the additional cases and tests, there now have been 325,689 cases reported since March 2020, and more than 8.1 million molecular and antigen tests have been performed in that time.

There was a net increase of 21 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 between new admissions and discharges to 545 statewide. This was highest number of hospitalizations since Feb. 17.

There were 215 patients hospitalized in New Haven County, 156 patients in Fairfield County and 120 patients in Hartford County.

Public health officials reported 17 more coronavirus-related deaths on Monday. There now have been 7,974 deaths attributed to COVID-19 or complications from the viral disease.

The state reported there have been 3,308 cases in Naugatuck, 849 in Prospect and 521 in Beacon Falls since last March.

There have been 88 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to state officials.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.