Vaccine Watch

California pauses use of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine over ‘extremely rare’ blood clot concerns

In making the announcement, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is vaccinating more than 3 million people a week and is “still on track to fully reopen” the economy on June 15.

California will temporarily stop administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine — a move federal health officials had recommended Tuesday morning following reports of six serious blood clots nationwide.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said the stoppage was “out of an abundance of caution” and noted that Johnson & Johnson accounts for only about 4% of the total supply the state has recently received from the federal government.

He also said the state remains “on track to fully reopen” by its target date of June 15. “Vaccines are still overwhelmingly safe,” Newsom wrote on Twitter.

State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said California will also “convene the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup to review the information provided by the federal government on this issue.”

“As the federal government has said, we do not expect a significant impact to our vaccination allocations,” she said in a statement.

In Los Angeles County, health officials noted that “Nearly 7 million people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States to date,” and that “people who received the vaccine in the last three weeks should look for any symptoms of these unusual clots, including severe headaches, abdominal or leg pain, and shortness of breath, and contact their medical provider if symptoms develop.”

Any prolonged interruption in the use of that vaccine threatens to throw a significant wrench in the state’s inoculation campaign — and comes as the state is scheduled to open eligibility to all residents 16 and older on Thursday.

California has also set a target date of June 15 to fully reopen its economy, though state officials said doing so will heavily hinge on vaccination progress.

It’s unclear how the Johnson & Johnson pause may affect that goal.

To date, providers throughout California have administered 23 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, and 38.8% of residents have received at least one shot, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Almost 875,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered statewide to date, federal data show.

The CDC has scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday to discuss the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” said a joint statement from Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “This is important, in part, to ensure that the healthcare provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot.”

Even before the pause, California was running into supply issues with that vaccine.

Although California’s allocations of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are expected to remain relatively steady this week, the state — along with the rest of the nation — saw its supply of Johnson & Johnson slashed.

Last week, 574,900 Johnson & Johnson doses were allocated to the Golden State. This week, that number will plummet to 67,600, an 88% drop, CDC data show.

The allocation is expected to fall even further next week, to 22,400 doses, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The free-falling number of available Johnson & Johnson doses stems from a production issue at a plant in Baltimore — where the drugmaker said a number of doses (news reports pegged the number at 15 million) failed quality standards and couldn’t be used.

Johnson & Johnson is now “working closely with the [Food and Drug Administration] to resolve any manufacturing issues,” as well as “installing a new senior leadership team to oversee all aspects of production and manufacturing at the facility,” according to Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Biden’s COVID-19 task force.

This nosedive for Johnson & Johnson will drive down the size of the state’s federal allocation from the 2.4 million doses received last week, to 2 million this week and 1.9 million next week.

There are no changes to federal guidance on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

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Unlike those two, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot and does not need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, making officials optimistic that it could be administered and transported more easily.

Scattered cases of clots have also arisen in Europe among recipients of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, leading several countries to restrict use of that shot to older people. In Britain, residents under 30 will be given the choice of other vaccines as a precautionary measure.

However, the European Union’s drugs regulator has ruled that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as a generally safe and highly effective guard against COVID-19, outweigh the risks. It has not recommended any age restrictions for recipients.

AstraZeneca says it intends to apply for emergency-use authorization of its vaccine in the U.S.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, a Lookout content partner.