Maryland health services are canceling appointments for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration recommendation to suspend it due to safety concerns.
After six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in people who received the J&J vaccine, the FDA and CDC have recommended suspending clinics that administer it.
Officials from the Food & Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a press briefing that the onset of symptoms was extremely rare. They said the six cases of blood clots, out of 6.8 million doses administered, all involved women aged 18 to 48, and their symptoms appeared six to 13 days after vaccination.
One woman has died and another is in critical condition.
Stopping additional doses will allow authorities to alert healthcare providers of potential side effects they may see in patients, they said, noting that the condition of the blood clots requires less common treatment. to be solved safely.
“It was clear to us that we needed to alert the public,” said Anne Schuchat, CDC senior deputy director, adding that the break will allow the healthcare community “to learn what it needs to know how to diagnose. , treat and report âon adverse reactions.
The Maryland Department of Health has ordered all vaccine suppliers to stop distributing the J&J vaccine until further notice.
“Based on the recommendation of the federal government and out of prudence, the Maryland Department of Health Orders all COVID-19 vaccine suppliers in Maryland to suspend administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines until new federal guidelines are released, âthe department said in a statement.
They added that suppliers should continue to maintain their supplies of J&J vaccines in a way that avoids wastage.
Montgomery County Health Officer Dr Travis Gayles said the county was already facing a vaccine shortage due to earlier cuts in federal allocations to states.
In the short term, Gayles said, the operations of the mass vaccination site in Germantown should not be affected by the decision to suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
âWe expected to primarily use Pfizer on this site from tomorrow,â Gayles said Tuesday at a Montgomery County council session as officials monitored a public appeal with the FDA.
Council members feared the news would heighten some skepticism about coronavirus vaccines.
“There was already a high degree of misinformation out there,” said board member Gabe Albornoz (D), “and I’m already starting to see a lot of ‘I told you so’.”
Montgomery County had about 960 doses of the J&J vaccine available for appointments at the mass vaccination site in Germantown on Tuesday.
The Hagerstown mass vaccination site has switched to Pfizer vaccine supply on Tuesday and will honor all appointments.
The J&J vaccine was seen as a critical part of the scaling-up vaccination effort in the United States, as it only requires a single dose and has less stringent storage requirements.
But so far, that was a small portion of the overall doses given – the 6.8 million doses given on Monday are among nearly 190 million nationwide, according to the CDC vaccine tracker. Another 9 million have been shipped to the States but not yet administered.
In comparison, 98 million doses of Pfizer vaccine and 85 million doses of Moderna vaccine were administered, both requiring two injections weeks apart. The rare condition of blood clots has not been reported after doses of these injections.
Johnson & Johnson struggled to ramp up vaccine production and had to reject 15 million doses due to errors at a Maryland manufacturing plant.
The federal announcement comes as demand for vaccines increases as states remove eligibility requirements, acting on instructions from the Biden administration to make every American eligible for a vaccine by Monday.
Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said Tuesday there was enough supply available of Pfizer and Moderna doses to continue the current rate of 3 million shots per day.
He added that the Biden administration is working with states and federally-run vaccination sites to reschedule anyone with an appointment with J&J to receive any of the other available vaccines.
It is not yet clear how long the break on J&J doses will last. The FDA’s independent vaccine advisory group, which authorized each of the three current vaccines, is due to meet on Wednesday to review the cases that led to the federal recommendation.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said based on what he heard from other senior public health officials, the review is more likely to last ” days to weeks ârather thanâ weeks to months â. “
Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the hiatus is “a recommendation” and “not a mandate,” adding that federal officials would not prevent a supplier from administering the vaccine if a provider and a patient determine that the benefits outweigh the risks.
But most Americans don’t get their vaccine directly from a primary care provider, and instead go through federally or state-run immunization sites, or local pharmacies receiving doses through the intermediary. of the government.
The condition of the blood clot, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, was associated with low levels of blood platelets in all six cases examined by the FDA.
Anyone who has received a J&J vaccine and develops severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of vaccination should contact their health care provider, FDA officials said. .
National vaccine equity initiative arrives in Baltimore
As the state grapples with potential vaccine shortages due to the temporary suspension of the J&J vaccine, the Rockefeller Foundation announced on Tuesday it had selected Baltimore as one of five pilot cities to launch a $ 20 million program. of dollars. Equity First Immunization Initiative designed to improve immunization rates among communities of color, which have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With support from Rockefeller, the Open Society Institute-Baltimore (OSI-Baltimore) will launch the Baltimore Equitable Vaccination Initiative to provide medically valid and culturally competent information on vaccine safety and improve distribution and delivery mechanisms to reach the Baltimoreans disconnected via pop-up vaccination sites and clinics across town.
In addition to on-the-ground support, the initiative will support resource centers to help address access to health care, housing and other essential health maintenance needs and advocate for a systemic change that will meet the needs of community infrastructure and social services to reduce health disparities.
âThe Rockefeller Foundation has been a key Baltimore and OSI ally since the early days of COVID-19 when it helped create Baltimore Health Corps, an initiative to recruit, train and employ more than 300 residents who were without employment due to the pandemic as contact tracers, âsaid Danielle Torain, director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. âWe are proud to continue this partnership through the Baltimore Equitable Vaccination Initiative, which will ensure communities have equitable access to vaccines, information and other resources. “
OSI-Baltimore will partner with a number of local and community organizations and government agencies to ensure that disproportionately affected communities, including Blacks, Indigenous Peoples and People of Color (BIPOC) and essential low-wage workers are adequately served.
“Due to existing structural inequalities – including access to health care, wealth gaps and systematic racism – people of color have been much more likely to contract Covid-19 and die from this virus,” said said Otis Rolley, senior vice president of US Equity. and Economic Opportunity Initiative at the Rockefeller Foundation and a former City of Baltimore official who is a former member of the OSI-Baltimore Advisory Board. âThe Rockefeller Foundation is launching this initiative because an immunization strategy that does not seek to directly address inequalities risks entrenching them further. “
Representing less than a third of the 63 million people who are now fully vaccinated in the United States, communities of color are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 and three times as likely to be hospitalized as white Americans. To close this gap, the Rockefeller Foundation will initially work with five organizations to roll out equity-focused hyper-local public health interventions in five U.S. cities.
Besides Baltimore, they are: Chicago, Houston, Newark, NJ, and Oakland, California.
Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters and Valerie Bonk of WTOP News contributed to this report.