What a pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines means in the Charlotte area

What a pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines means in the Charlotte area

Paige Hopkins/ Axios Charlotte

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Charlotte health care providers are pausing administration of Johnson & Johnson vaccines out of an abundance of caution following guidance Tuesday from the FDA and CDC.

The new guidance comes after six women across the U.S. (not in N.C.) developed a rare blood clot connected to the one-dose coronavirus vaccine. NC DHHS similarly put out a statement that said it has paused all J&J vaccinations “until we learn more.”

Why it matters: Halting the use of any vaccine could slow down the overall vaccination process and the journey toward the pandemic’s end. Furthermore, the pause could increase vaccine hesitancy among communities who are already unsure about getting vaccinated.

“My biggest concern is that vaccine hesitancy just skyrocketed,” Dr. Katie Passaretti of Atrium told reporters Tuesday.

Local health officials are emphasizing that the blood clots are extremely rare — six cases out of 6.8 million total J&J vaccinations is less than one in 1 million. Further, the J&J vaccines came out later and only account for a small chunk of total vaccinations. There are no similar side effects associated with Pfizer and Moderna, two-dose vaccines given three and four weeks apart, respectively.

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  • If you’ve taken a Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last two weeks, monitor yourself for any unusual symptoms: severe headache, visual changes, weakness of face or limbs, swelling of the extremities. These side effects are unlikely, but you should talk to your doctor if they develop, Dr. David Priest of Novant said.
  • If it’s been more than two weeks since you got the J&J vaccine, you’re at low risk for developing any severe symptoms.

The state of play: In Charlotte, a handful of large-scale J&J vaccinations were planned in the coming weeks.

  • Mecklenburg County has a vaccination event today, April 13, with Salvation Army. It’ll now use Moderna instead of J&J.
  • Camp North End is hosting a vaccine clinic over the weekend that would’ve given out 2,000 J&J doses. Now, the county will use Pfizer instead.
  • Mecklenburg County has been using J&J doses to vaccinate homebound residents. Now, it’ll use Pfizer.

All of Charlotte’s major providers are also following the new guidance.

Atrium Health, the biggest health system in the Carolinas, says because it didn’t have any J&J vaccines scheduled for the near future, the pause “will not affect current vaccination appointments at Atrium Health.”

  • Atrium had administered the J&J vaccine at local mass vaccination events like the ones at Bank of America Stadium.

Novant Health says it wasn’t scheduled to receive any new doses of J&J this week, so pausing its use won’t have a great immediate impact. Any patients who were scheduled to receive a J&J vaccine in the coming days will be offered Pfizer instead. Doses already in the health system’s possession will be stored, not thrown away.

What’s next: The federal government is expected to announce a decision about the J&J vaccine within days, county health director Gibbie Harris said. “It’s erring on the side of safety. I don’t think anyone can argue with that at this point,” Harris said.

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