Here’s what we know about J&J COVID vaccine in Idaho — and what to do if it affects you

Hayat Norimine, Nicole Foy
·4 min read

Idaho health officials on Tuesday advised vaccine providers to pause using Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC and Food and Drug Administration recommended that states temporarily halt the use of the single-shot vaccine, also known as the Janssen vaccine, after reports that six women in the U.S. developed a rare blood-clotting disorder.

Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho’s lead epidemiologist, said during a press conference Tuesday that the adverse reactions to the vaccine remain “extremely rare,” considering about 6.8 million people in the U.S. have received it. The clotting issue has not affected anyone in Idaho who got the single-shot dose, state officials said.

“Nonetheless, we agree with the general recommendation across the country to put a pause on this vaccine program,” Hahn said. “We want to make sure the public feels safe getting vaccines, and that we are taking every precaution to ensure that vaccines that we are administering in the state are safe.”

In Idaho, 82,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been distributed. Nearly 31,000 doses had been administered as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Idaho has administered 886,210 total vaccine doses, so the J&J shot represented just 3.5%.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement Tuesday that the company has delayed the rollout of its vaccine in Europe and is working closely with medical experts and health authorities.

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our No. 1 priority,” the company said.

Idaho health officials encourage use of other COVID-19 vaccines

Public health officials have hoped the single-dose vaccine would help protect communities that are more difficult to reach, such as rural areas or underserved populations, including the homeless, because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to ship and store. In previous media briefings, state health officials specifically mentioned that it could help reach largely Latino farmworker communities that might be relocating frequently for work, or those who may not be able to take time off work for two doses.

Hahn said Idaho residents who were scheduled to receive the vaccine should work with their providers to postpone their appointments until health officials know more. They can also consider getting an alternative vaccine, such as the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

Those who have scheduled appointments to receive another kind of vaccine are encouraged to keep them, Hahn said.

St. Luke’s Health System officials on Tuesday said they were scheduled to provide 700-800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Thursday at a mass vaccination clinic. Those who wish to continue with their appointments can receive the Moderna vaccine, officials said.

Scott Milner, director of pharmacy at St. Luke’s, said about 30 patients canceled their appointments after the Johnson & Johnson news.

“There will be some people who might’ve been on the fence that might use this as ammunition in a debate,” Milner said. “I think from my desk, it’s hard to know what widespread effects will come as a result.”

Dr. Laura McGeorge, service line director of primary care at St. Luke’s, stressed the importance of getting a vaccine against COVID-19. She emphasized that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have been out longer and have proved to be safe.

“The most important thing is to get a COVID vaccine,” McGeorge said.

For Terry Reilly Health Services, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was an important piece in efforts to reach underserved populations. Their community health centers serve many rural areas of southwestern Idaho, as well as many Spanish speakers and migrant farmworkers.

Chief operating officer Tami Fife said Terry Reilly has administered a little more than 500 Johnson & Johnson vaccines so far.

“Logistically, using the Pfizer and the Moderna is a little bit more difficult because you have to schedule that second vaccine,” Fife told the Statesman on Tuesday evening. “It doesn’t necessarily change our outreach strategy. We’re going to continue with what we have planned.”

Fife said many farmers and business owners who had planned on-site clinics with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were willing to switch to Moderna or Pfizer, even though it might take employees away from work longer than planned. Terry Reilly has also sent information about the pause to those who have already hosted clinics with the J&J vaccine, Fife said, and opened its RN triage line for any patients who have questions.

Of the six cases of the clotting reaction in the U.S., one person died and another is in critical condition. All of the patients were women between 18 and 48 years old. Symptoms can occur up to three weeks after vaccination.

Idaho health officials said abnormal symptoms typically occur 6-13 days after the shot and can include a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath. Anyone experiencing those should contact their doctor immediately, according to IDHW.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Wednesday to discuss the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and whether to continue the pause or reinstate use of the vaccine only for specific groups.