Official: Vaccine pause illustrates safety measures

Randy Griffith, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
·2 min read

Apr. 14—The abundance of caution that led federal and state health leaders to pause distribution of one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday illustrates the scrutiny and safety of the nation's vaccine program, a state official said.

"The federal action that was taken (Tuesday) is really indicative of our dedication to make sure this entire process is monitored so tightly and with such intensity that folks can really trust in the vaccine that they are receiving," said Dr. Denise Johnson, acting state physician general.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were investigating rare but potentially dangerous blood clots that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

More than 6 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the United States.

Johnson said blood clots are more common in the general population than the apparent one-in-a-million occurrence among vaccine recipients. But other medical factors are being considered.

"The thing that is really concerning is that these blood clots are occurring with low platelet levels," Johnson said during the health department briefing.

"That is not something that we see very commonly."

In addition to pausing the vaccine, Johnson said it's important for health care providers to be aware of the condition. Some traditional treatments or blood clots could be dangerous for those with the low-platelet clots, she explained.

There is only a small impact in this area, where most vaccine clinics have featured the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Representatives of Conemaugh Health System, Mainline Pharmacy, Highlands Health: Laurel Highlands Free & Charitable Medical Clinic and Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center in Windber said none of the facilities has received any Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The state distributed 262,739 doses of Johnson & Johnson out of more than 6.5 million total doses, Beam said. Much of the supply went to a special initiative to vaccinate educators for K-12 and preschool.

That initiative wrapped up more than two weeks ago. All of the blood clot events were reported within two weeks of receiving the vaccine, Beam noted.

Most teachers in Portage and Forest Hills School district took advantage of other opportunities to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Portage Superintendent Eric Zelanko and Forest Hills Superintendent David Lehman said.

Those who develop severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of their vaccinations should contact their health care providers, the department said.