Pursuant to recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the South Central Public Health District and the St. Luke’s Health System on Tuesday suspended offering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
In the meantime, state officials are urging Idahoans to seek out one of the other two COVID-19 vaccines available in Idaho.
The CDC and the FDA recommended the pause as the agencies prepare to review the safety of the vaccine. In the United States, six cases of a rare—but serious—type of blood clot occurred in women ages 18 to 48 who received the vaccine. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Wednesday, April 14, to review the cases and assess their significance. The FDA will also review the cases.
As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been administered in the U.S.
Of the three vaccines available in Idaho, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot has been administered the least often. A total of 30,673 Idahoans had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of Tuesday morning, according to data from the Department of Health and Welfare—just over 5% of the 544,163 Idahoans who have been vaccinated so far.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare stated Tuesday that it is recommending that Idaho vaccine providers not administer the J&J vaccine until more information is available.
St. Luke’s only administers the J&J vaccine on Thursdays, when it is available, at St. Luke’s Plaza 4 in Boise. St. Luke’s said Tuesday that it will offer the
approved two-dose Moderna vaccine to patients who are scheduled for this Thursday, April 14. Those who receive the Moderna vaccine will need to get a second dose after 28 days.
“We have open appointments in Boise and the Magic Valley for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines this week and next,” St. Luke’s stated in a news release. “It is important that people get vaccinated as soon as possible regardless of the vaccine brand.”
Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the South Central Public Health District, said the pause will likely have very little effect on the district’s vaccination efforts. The district has received a total of about 3,000 J&J vaccine doses, with only about 100 doses coming in each of recent weeks. She said no vaccine clinics will be canceled and arrangements will be made for people with appointments.
Bodily said she views the federal review of the J&J vaccine as proof that agencies in charge are “carefully monitoring” vaccine safety. She noted that the review does not automatically mean the J&J vaccine poses health risks to the millions of people who have received it. The CDC and FDA want to understand what caused the six cases of blood clots, she said. She encouraged people with questions about their vaccine to talk to their provider.
In the six cases that have been reported, symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. One patient died.
“People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider,” St. Luke’s stated.
In a virtual town hall event hosted by the Idaho AARP on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Brad Little described the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two others that have been administered in Idaho thus far—the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine—as “incredibly safe” overall.
“These hiccups this morning on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are unfortunate,” Little said. “But if there’s a problem, we want to get ahead of it. We don’t want people to have any uncertainty about this vaccine.”
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said he viewed the pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccines as “good news.”
“We want to have a system in place where if there’s any questions at all, we stop and make sure we know what the information is and what the danger is before we move forward,” Jeppesen said.
Little urged Idahoans who are able to be vaccinated but who have not yet done so to schedule an appointment as soon as possible, citing the potential of new COVID-19 variants to develop and spread.
“We’ve got to get people to stand up, raise their hand up, and say, ‘I want to be vaccinated,’’ Little said. “Then we can get back to normal.”
All Idahoans 16 and older are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines—Moderna, Pfizer and J&J—only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16-18 years old. Minors need parental consent or a special exemption to receive the vaccine.