SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will temporarily suspend its administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after federal regulators recommended pausing the vaccine to investigate a small number of blood clot issues.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that blood clot issues were being investigated in six women who had received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine several days before reporting the clots.
About 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S. so far, according to the CDC, so less than one in a million people have experienced clotting issues with the vaccine.
In Utah, about 77,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered, and there have been no reports of blood clots in the state, Utah Department of Health officials said in a Tuesday news release.
"Even though these cases have occurred in just one out of every one million people who have received the vaccine, and even though it will slow our efforts to vaccinate Utah residents against COVID-19, calling for this pause is the right thing to do," Utah Department of Health executive director Rich Saunders said in the release. "It's critical the public be confident in the COVID-19 vaccines, and in order to build and maintain that confidence reports like these must be taken seriously and fully investigated to determine what role, if any, the vaccine played."
The clots are rare and treatable, according to health officials. However, one of the six people who reported the clots has died, and another is in critical condition, according to Dr. Richard Orlandi, associate chief medical officer for ambulatory health for University of Utah Health.
Orlandi pointed out during a Tuesday press conference that although the condition is very rare, the health and well-being of patients is always the top priority for healthcare providers.
"This is an extremely rare complication," he said. "Vaccine hesitancy is already an issue that we're seeing, and this isn't going to help."
The CDC recommends that anyone who has experienced a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact their health provider.
People who had appointments to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine through the University of Utah Health system have had their appointments canceled, and they have been offered the Pfizer vaccine instead, according to Dr. Kavish Choudhary, the U.'s director of pharmacy. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine represents a comparatively small portion of Utah's vaccine rollout thus far, so the U. health system did not have to cancel that many appointments, Choudhary added.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines aren't affected by the pause in Utah or nationwide. Those two vaccines represent the vast majority of the vaccines administered in Utah, with more than 1.8 million doses distributed between them, the news release says.
However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been used in some harder-to-reach and underserved communities in Utah because it only involves administering a single dose, Orlandi said. Utah vaccine providers will have to redouble their efforts to distribute the two-dose vaccines into those communities, he added.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a different chemical process than the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines, so health officials are confident that they are safe and won't cause any similar blood-clotting issues, Orlandi said.
The Utah Department of Health will be coordinating with the CDC and FDA in the next few days and will determine how to move forward pending the review of the vaccine from those agencies, the news release stated.