Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause will have little effect on Hawaii, health director says

Apr. 14—Despite a nationwide pause on the use of the Johnson &Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to six cases of serious blood clots, including one death, Hawaii remains on track to open up COVID-19 vaccinations by Monday to those 16 and over.

"This will be a little bit of a setback for us, but we weren't receiving that much Johnson &Johnson and this week we were only on target for 2, 600 doses, " State Health Director Libby Char said.

"The J &J factor is not going to affect us greatly. We're still counting on Mo ­derna and Pfizer, and we'll meet that presidential mandate of April 19."

The state Department of Health is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's guidance by pausing its use of the J &J vaccine.

The state received 47, 612 doses and administered just 17, 808 doses of the one-shot vaccine. "We will hang onto the extra 30, 000 doses, " Char said, pending further guidance from the CDC and FDA.

Char said her department was prepared to meet the original presidential mandate of May 1 but sped things up by opening up vaccinations this Monday on Oahu to those 50 and older.

Those scheduled to receive the J &J vaccine Tuesday in Hawaii were offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead or offered to reschedule their appointments.

No one in Hawaii who got the J &J vaccine has reported blood clots, DOH said.

The six cases nationally all involved women ages 18 to 48, with symptoms occurring six to 13 days after vaccination.

Char said the cerebral venous sinus thrombosis blood clots are serious and significant, not subtle.

Anyone who has received the J &J vaccine within the past few weeks should monitor themselves for symptoms including shortness of breath, severe headache, abdominal pain and leg pain. They are advised to check with their doctors if they experience such symptoms.

Hilton Rathael, president and CEO of Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said, "Based on the statistics we do have, the risk is about 1-in-1 million, which is a very, very low risk. The risk of not getting the vaccine and contracting COVID is actually much higher than this potential side effect."

He said what is unusual is that the blood clotting is associated with low blood platelets, but "normally you get a lot of blood platelets with clotting. It's the opposite of what you would expect. That is what is perplexing."

The CDC and FDA warns that anticoagulants usually used for clotting could be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.

Rathael said it's unknown whether the vaccine is the cause, although there is a correlation between it and the symptoms.

One theory being explored is that it could be linked to birth control since it has occurred only in women of child-bearing age, he said.

The first few sites administering the J &J vaccine included several in Windward Oahu. Among those receiving the vaccine were Department of Education workers, Char said.

She said the vaccine was divvied up throughout the counties through district health offices. Some was offered at correctional facilities and through CVS pharmacies, Safeway and Walgreens. She said it was offered to a wide cross section of the population, and many preferred the one-shot vaccine.

"I still have confidence in the vaccine, " Char said. "These adverse events appear to be extremely rare, but this transparent and deliberate pause ensures the medical community is aware of the potential adverse events."

State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D, Kaneohe-Ahuimanu ), who got the J &J vaccine on March 25, said, "A big reason for it is because it was only one shot. It's unfortunate that we lose this opportunity, at least for now, and then we'll have to do some real intense communication if they do eventually deem it safe. We're going to have to do a lot of communication to try and regain the confidence of the public that it's a shot worth taking."

The Windward Oahu senator said his office helped kupuna sign up to be vaccinated and spread awareness about the J &J vaccine.

"I received a lot of criticism and harassment from the anti-vaccination community from the beginning of the vaccination until now, " he said. "But the numbers are staggeringly high : 1-in-400 or 500 you'll have a real severe outcome if you get COVID-19 ... versus 7 million doses of the Johnson &Johnson and there are six adverse reactions but one death."

Also Tuesday, state health officials reported 64 new coronavirus infections statewide, bringing the state's total since the start of the pandemic to 30, 909 cases.

State health officials reported no new coronavirus-­related deaths, and the statewide death toll remained at 471.

The governor announced Tuesday that the state is opening up its pre-travel testing program Saturday to travelers from Taiwan and Southern California's Ontario International Airport.

Those travelers may bypass the state's 10-day quarantine if they take a COVID-19 test from a trusted testing partner, with 10 testing partners in Taiwan approved to administer a pre-travel test.