COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - When the FDA and CDC recommended a pause in the administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, South Carolina health officials took action.
The J&J vaccine, also known as the Janssen vaccine, has been linked to extremely rare cases of potentially dangerous blood clots.
Federal officials are investigating 6 such cases of blood clots out of a total of 6.85 million J&J vaccine doses -- making the chance for someone getting such a clot less than 1 in 1 million.
All cases happened in women between the ages of 18 and 48.
Hours after the federal recommendation, state officials with the Department of Health and Environmental Control announced J&J vaccines would be paused in South Carolina as a precautionary measure.
“Our top priority is protecting the health and safety of the public,” DHEC officials said. “This pause is evidence of very close safety monitoring as part of the strict quality assurance that is in place to ensure patient safety.”
DHEC contacted all vaccine providers and told them to stop giving the J&J vaccine Tuesday morning. To see a list of providers with J&J vaccines, click or tap here.
But more than 80,000 South Carolinians have already received the J&J vaccine, according to DHEC data, and another 7,000 doses have been given to residents of other states.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said people who have gotten the J&J vaccine more than a month ago and suffered no symptoms are OK. He said the timeframe for these blood clots to develop is “pretty tight.”
Federal health officials said the six cases they are investigating occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination.
“The likelihood that you will get a clot from COVID is several thousands times higher actually than getting it from the vaccine -- just to keep it in perspective,” said Dr. Helmut Albrecht, the Medical Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy for Prisma Health and the University of South Carolina.
He said people most at risk for developing a blood clot from a J&J vaccine include those with a genetic predisposition for blood clots, those who have had previous clots, and pre-menopausal women, especially if they smoke and/or are on birth control.
People should monitor for the following symptoms in the three weeks after getting a J&J vaccine and seek medical care if they are concerned:
- severe headache
- abdominal pain
- leg pain
- shortness of breath
- spontaneous bleeding
- flea bite-like lesions (especially in the mouth or on the lower leg)
Dr. Peter Marks is the Director of the FDA Center for Biologics, Evaluation and Research. He said the unique type of blood-clotting means doctors should be inquiring about recent vaccinations when patients arrive with those symptoms.
“If one administers the standard treatments that we as doctors have learned to give for blood clots, one can actually cause tremendous harm, or the outcome can be fatal,” he explained. “So one needs to make sure that providers are aware (of recent vaccinations).”
This pause on J&J vaccines, which the FDA expects will last several days, does not affect Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which use mRNA technology, do not put people at risk for blood clots, Albrecht said.
No cases of blood clots associated with the J&J vaccine have been reported in South Carolina.
“Millions of people in the United States have received doses of vaccines with very little side effects,” DHEC said. “We continue to encourage South Carolinians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to best protect yourself and others and will keep everyone updated as we learn more about the Janssen vaccine.”
Health officials are working to reallocate other vaccines to sites and clinics that planned to administer J&J vaccines.
South Carolina has received about 250,000 doses of the Janssen vaccine so far, data show. However, that is far fewer doses than Pfizer and Moderna -- of which the state has received more than a million each.
To read more about vaccine allocation and administration in South Carolina, click or tap here or explore the interactive dashboard below.
The CDC is convening the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday to begin reviewing the data surrounding the six cases.