“We’re very hopeful that this will be a fairly short pause,” Department of Health Services deputy secretary says.
People who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine should not be concerned by the federal government’s temporary suspension of the shots, Wisconsin health officials said Tuesday.
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday announced they were ordering a “pause” on the administration of J&J vaccine after cases of a rare blood clotting illness were discovered in six out of the more than 6.8 million people who have received the shot nationally. The less than one-in-a-million event is far more rare than the risk of blood clots from birth control pills (approximately 1:1,000), smoking, obesity, or traveling long distances by air.
“We really believe most people who’ve received their J&J vaccines within the last month don’t have anything to worry about and should just keep on living,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), in a Tuesday call with reporters.
Symptoms of the blood clotting illness include head, back, abdominal, or leg pain, a sudden change in vision, and shortness of breath within about two weeks of receiving a J&J shot. A federal committee is set to meet Wednesday to review the reported illnesses.
“It’s important to note that this pause is evidence of our safety protocols working,” Willems Van Dijk said.
Willems Van Dijk said the state is set to receive about 10,000 J&J doses this week, which will still be distributed to vaccinators. The department also halted administration of the vaccine, so Willems Van Dijk said vaccinators who receive J&J doses this week should put them in cold storage but hold off on using them until the federal suspension lifts.
The hold on the J&J vaccine isn’t expected to pose a substantial issue to the nation’s vaccine rollout, as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines account for about 95% of the doses given across the US.
In Wisconsin, vaccinators have administered about 160,000 J&J shots out of almost 3.6 million total doses given. DHS is not aware of J&J recipients who have experienced the blood clotting illness in the state, Willems Van Dijk said.
“We’re very hopeful that this will be a fairly short pause and we’ll be back administering J&J very shortly,” Willems Van Dijk said.
People in some parts of Wisconsin, especially some rural counties in the northwest part of the state, have expressed reluctance to be vaccinated, county health officers reported. That hesitation increased in some areas Tuesday with the announcement about the J&J vaccine, they said, but they continue to urge people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with available vaccines.
Following Tuesday’s order “we will be seeing a lot more vaccine hesitancy,” St. Croix County health officer Kelli Engen said, noting she was receiving many questions about the J&J vaccine as the day progressed.
Willems Van Dijk said she hopes the safety precautions being taken will be seen “as ways to increase safety, rather than making [people] more hesitant, more fearful.”
The news comes as health officials try to stay ahead of an uptick in coronavirus cases in Wisconsin. The Department of Health Services reported 922 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. They bring the seven-day average of new cases to 795, the highest figure since Feb. 13. Ten new deaths bring the state’s pandemic death toll to 6,690. The Wisconsin Hospital Association shows an increase in the number of in-patients being treated for COVID-19, to a level last seen on Feb. 27.
Julian Emerson contributed to this report.