CHICAGO — Illinois and Chicago will temporarily stop using the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” following a federal recommendation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Drug Administration recommended Tuesday morning providers “pause” using the one-dose vaccine. Experts are investigating if the doses are linked to reports of extremely rare but potentially dangerous blood clots found in a small number of women.
Nearly 7 million people have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States, and the CDA and FDA are investigating blood clots and low platelets in six women. The pause is being done “out of an abundance of caution,” according to the agencies.
None of those cases have been found in Chicago, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Tuesday news conference.
The “pause” is only expected to last several days, FDA acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said during a news conference.
The one-shot vaccine has been administered to more than 47,000 Chicagoans, Arwady said. About 13,000 more Johnson & Johnson shots were expected to be administered this week, though those appointments are now being delayed or other vaccines will be given.
Officials hoped that, as supply of the doses increased, it would play a significant role in getting residents vaccinated as quickly as possible. Just Monday, city officials announced the mass vaccination site at the United Center would switch to Johnson & Johnson doses come April 20.
But the city’s health department said Tuesday it will follow the federal government’s recommendation to temporarily stop using Johnson & Johnson doses.
“Vaccine safety is always our top priority,” the health department said in a news release. “We are working closely with our partners at the federal and local level to determine how this impacts the city’s vaccine operations.”
Arwady said the city is waiting to hear from FEMA on what it will do about the United Center. The Chicago State University mass vaccination site, which had been using Johnson & Johnson doses, will switch to using Pfizer shots. People who had appointments there do not need to cancel them.
And the city has halted its homebound vaccination program, as it had been using Johnson & Johnson shots for that.
The Chicago Department of Public Health said the reports of blood cots are “very rare,” and officials are not aware of any local cases.
The federal government’s recommendation does not affect Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations, which make up the bulk of shots administered in Chicago.
Of the more than 180 million Pfizer and Moderna doses that have been administered across the United States, none have been associated with blood clots and low platelets, Arwady said. She encouraged people who have appointments to get those shots to keep them and get vaccinated.
Federally-run mass vaccination sites will have to stop using the Johnson & Johnson shot for now, and most providers are expected to follow that move.
The Illinois Department of Public Health will pause its use of the vaccine, and it has notified its providers throughout the state to discontinue its use for now. The state health department has “strongly” advised providers to use Pfizer and Moderna vaccines so appointments don’t need to be canceled, according to a news release.
Moderna and Pfizer make up the vast majority of the doses being provided to Illinois. This week, the state received 17,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Next week, the state expects to get 483,720 doses of vaccine — of which just 5,800 will be from Johnson & Johnson.
The Cook County Health Department said it will temporarily stop using the vaccine as the FDA and CDC investigate. People who had appointments at Cook County’s mass vaccination sites will instead receive Moderna or Pfizer shots for now, according to a news release. People who had appointments at those sites but don’t want a Moderna or Pfizer shot can call 833-308-1988 to cancel or reschedule their appointment.
The county health department has asked all its partners to halt using the vaccine, as well.
People who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and develop a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks should contact their health provider, according to the CDC.
The severe illness potentially linked to Johnson & Johnson appears to affect just one in 1 million people, Arwady said.
“If people already got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there is nothing that they need to do differently at this point except to monitor in case they were to have these significant side effects,” Arwady said.
All of the currently available vaccines in the United States were approved for emergency use, with vaccine makers having to undergo months of trials and studies to show they are safe. Officials have said some people experience side effects — like fatigue or arm soreness — after getting their shots, but no serious side effects have been officially linked to vaccines here.
The vaccinations — provided for free, regardless of a person’s insurance — are the best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic, officials have said.
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