DC-area health departments cancel appointments, switch vaccines after J&J pause

D.C.-area health departments are canceling Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine appointments, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that it be put on hold because of safety concerns.

After six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in people who received the J&J vaccine, the FDA and CDC recommended pausing clinics that are administering it.

DC

D.C. Health told WTOP that they have temporarily discontinued the vaccine, and that all appointments for the J&J shot between Tuesday and Saturday have been canceled.

Those who had appointments in D.C. will receive a new invitation Wednesday night to book an appointment for later this week or next week.

In a call with reporters, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said the agency “notified all COVID-19 vaccine providers in the District of the pause in efforts ensure that no doses of the J&J vaccine would be administered by COVID-19 providers, including our hospitals, health systems, community health centers and retail pharmacies.”

She noted that the pause will create “some impact” on D.C.’s vaccine operations.

“The 1,200 individuals scheduled for appointments using J&J vaccine through vaccinate.dc.gov have already been notified that they will receive a prioritized appointment to reschedule,” Nesbitt said. “These persons will receive their appointment invitations for rescheduling today. Any person scheduled for an appointment outside of vaccinate.dc.gov using the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to contact their health care provider to reschedule.”

Nesbitt said the pause would also delay D.C.’s homebound vaccination initiatives and the use of single-dose vaccines in District emergency departments.

Though noting that the risk for clots is extremely low, she warned that residents experiencing severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath should seek medical treatment.

So far, no D.C. residents have been reported to suffer from the blood clots being investigated.

According to Nesbitt, for entities that receive doses of vaccine directly from the federal government — like retail pharmacies and health centers, as well as federal entities such as the VA and the Department of Defense, who have received a total of 8000 doses of the J&J vaccine — their impact will be communicated by them directly to their scheduled individuals.

Private pharmacies who were supplied with the J&J vaccine are out of luck during the pause: there won’t be any replacements from D.C.

“Broadly, the District of Columbia does not have the ability through our state allocated vaccines to replace vaccines that were allocated by the federal government directly to a partner, whether it be as a function of the J&J vaccine pause or as a function of the entity having wastage … or high demand in their particular fight,” Nesbitt said.

Washingtonian Angela Smith told WTOP that she’s less concerned about the J&J shot after having learned how low the risk for blood clots is.

“It’s one in a million,” Smith said. “And I am not worried about me personally experiencing adverse side effects at this point. I am more worried about what this means for vaccine confidence, especially with people who may have already been skeptical before today about taking one of the COVID vaccines. And I think that the FDA and the federal government really need to step up their messaging about how safe these vaccines actually are so that we can get our entire communities vaccinated.”

Julia Garnett, of Northeast, said she “did have some intense side effects for about 36 hours. I had 101 fever, body aches and headaches and some lesser side effects that lingered for about a week, like fatigue.”

“However, the long-term side effects of getting COVID scare me much more than the temporary and long-term effects of the Janssen vaccine.”

Maryland

The Maryland Department of Health has directed all vaccine providers to stop giving out the J&J vaccine until further notice.

“Based on the federal government’s recommendation and out of an abundance of caution, the Maryland Department of Health directs all Maryland COVID-19 vaccine providers to pause the administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines until further federal guidance is issued,” the department said in a statement.

They added that providers should continue to maintain their supplies of the J&J vaccines in a manner that prevents waste.

Montgomery County’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, said the county was already dealing with a shortage of vaccines due to the earlier reduction of federal allotments to the states.

In the short term, Gayles said, the operations of the mass vaccine site in Germantown should not be affected by the decision to pause the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“We had fully expected to be using primarily Pfizer at that site beginning tomorrow,” Gayles said Tuesday during a Montgomery County Council session while officials monitored a public call with the FDA.

Council members worried the news would increase the skepticism some have about the coronavirus vaccines.

“There was already a high degree of misinformation out there,” Gabe Albornoz said, “and already I’m beginning to see a lot of ‘I-told-you-so’s.'”

Montgomery County had about 960 doses of the J&J vaccine on hand for appointments at the mass vaccination site in Germantown on Tuesday.

The Hagerstown mass vaccination site has switched to providing the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and will honor all appointments.

Virginia

The Virginia Department of Health said it is canceling all upcoming appointments for the J&J vaccine. The City of Manassas and Prince William County said they are switching Tuesday and Wednesday’s vaccination clinics to the Pfizer vaccine.

“We will cease all Johnson & Johnson vaccines until this investigation is complete,” Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccination coordinator, said in a statement. “If you have an upcoming appointment for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you will be contacted to reschedule that appointment.”

Avula called the pause “reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working.”

“Hopefully, this is just a small setback that we will overcome,” Gov. Ralph Northam said at the Metz Middle School, in Manassas, where he toured a vaccination site Tuesday morning.

He emphasized that the number of people who have reported the clotting problems in “a small number” — six out of nearly 7 million — but said, “We’re going to rely on the guidance of the CDC and the FDA … this is something that we take very seriously.”

He added that the commonwealth would resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as soon as the FDA and CDC give the green light again.

The governor called the rollout of vaccinations “the light and the hope at the end of this long dark tunnel.”

The Metz site was supposed to have been giving out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Northam said, but had switched over to Pfizer, giving people appointments to come back for the required second dose. He added that that switch was a demonstration of the “flexibility” that would get Virginia through the crisis.

The governor also predicted that all three vaccines would be approved for children “by this summer.”

“From what I’ve heard, those trials are going well,” said Northam, a pediatric neurologist.

Northam added that he had no plans to make vaccination mandatory at colleges and universities.

“I don’t anticipate” making such a move, Northam said, adding that he hasn’t asked Attorney General Mark Herring for an opinion on the matter.

“One of our hopes and goals was to try to get our college students vaccinated before they went home for the summer, and a lot of that plan relied on the supply of J&J,” Northam said.

They’ll try to make up the gap with the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

“We know now that young people are vectors … and we really intend to get those folks vaccinated before they go home.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said last week that the University of Maryland could require students to be vaccinated before they come to campus in the fall.

The recommendation from the FDA came after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 were found to have unusual clotting in the veins that lead away from the brain. About 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine have been administered in the U.S.

WTOP’s Will Vitka, Rick Massimo and Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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