Connecticut state leaders told vaccine providers to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
The CDC announcement came as a result of six people in the United States who developed cerebral blood clots in the two weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. More than 6.8 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson shot. About 100,000 people in Connecticut have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and none have reported serious side effects, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The state has leveraged its supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccines for its mobile vans, which have targeted cities and high-risk areas, that officials have determined would benefit from a single-dose vaccine. Those vans will now be stocked instead with Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, though administering a second dose could be a challenge for the state. State officials already expected that the number of Johnson & Johnson doses available would decrease in the next few weeks due to manufacturing challenges.
Gov. Ned Lamont held a press conference after joining a call with White House officials and other governors from around the country. He praised the CDC for erring on the side of caution, but expressed concerns about vaccine hesitancy in the aftermath of this news.
“A number of governors thought, though, that the White House team was a little naive when they said, this is just going to be a pause, and then we restart our engines,” Lamont said. “It’s a million times safer to get vaccinated than pausing or waiting.”
Connecticut vaccine providers have been asked to hold onto their supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as the pause should be cleared up in a matter of days.
Suppliers planning to deliver Johnson & Johnson shots this week have been asked to offer either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for those appointments, though Josh Geballe, the state’s chief operating officer, anticipated some of the appointments in the coming days will be canceled.
Still, Geballe said Connecticut is “full steam ahead” for anyone who wants a vaccine to be able to get one by the end of the month, even without the Johnson & Johnson supply, so anyone whose appointment is canceled due to the Johnson & Johnson pause should be able to reschedule shortly.
“We’re working with all of our providers to rebalance, make sure we can try to help move Pfizer and Moderna around to minimize the number of cancellations,” Geballe said. “There probably will be some, but we’re hopeful that the number will be very limited.”
People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last three weeks who develop a severe headache, leg pain, abdominal pain, or shortness of breath are encouraged to contact their health care provider, the Department of Public Health said.
Lamont said he hoped the CDC’s decision would show how seriously the government is taking any potential side effects.
“You should get some comfort from the fact that early on, they used to call it Operation Warp Speed as if they were trying to get vaccines out as quickly as possible, with some risk of cutting corners,” Lamont said. “That’s not the case, and it’s certainly not the case with the CDC, and it’s not the case with the efficacy and the safety of the vaccines that are out there right now.”
Acting Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford encouraged residents to keep in mind the known seriousness of COVID-19 compared to the incredibly limited potential vaccine risk.
“Everything in life carries some level of risk,” Gifford said. “ We know the risk of COVID is real. We’ve lost 7,000 people in Connecticut to COVID, and we haven’t lost anybody in Connecticut from this particular side effect of the J&J vaccine.”