Northeast Ohio Providers Pause Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Amid Investigation
Updated 5:12 p.m., Tuesday, April 13, 2021
The Ohio Department of Health is advising all vaccine providers to temporarily stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while federal health agencies look into reports of blood clots in six women after they received the vaccine.
The Cuyahoga and Summit County Boards of Health will follow that guidance and stop using the vaccine, officials said.
Cuyahoga County, however, is mostly using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in congregate living facilities where it made more sense to only administer one shot, said the health department's spokesperson Kevin Brennan.
“That’s really where that’s been ideal because we could go in and give one dose and we wouldn’t have to return for the second dose,” he said.
Cuyahoga County has been using Pfizer and Moderna, which both require two doses, for its mass vaccination clinics, Brennan said.
In Summit County, the pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will not affect the mass vaccination clinics held at the Summit County Fairgrounds.
Those clinics will continue to run as scheduled and handle the same number of people as before the change, according to Health Commissioner Donna Skoda. Officials were vaccinating around 3,000 people a day.
“If, in fact, the federal government says that we should switch back to J&J, then we would go back to Johnson & Johnson,” Skoda said. “But we would make sure individuals understood or knew what they were getting.”
The mass vaccination site at Cleveland’s Wolstein Center was scheduled to switch from the Pfizer vaccine to Johnson & Johnson vaccines beginning April 27 for the last two weeks of the clinic.
The site is run by several agencies including FEMA and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
ODH spokesperson Alicia Shoults said state officials are watching the situation closely.
"The Ohio Department of Health is working with FEMA on plans for weeks 7 and 8 at the Wolstein Center," she said in a written statement.
What are the signs and symptoms of a blood clot?
Anyone who received a Johnson & Johnson shot should monitor for anything unusual, Skoda said, including blood clots or areas of the body that are warm to the touch.
“There’s a lot of unknowns,” she said. “Out of an abundance of caution, they are going to be very, very careful and evaluate any, what appear to be abnormal reactions to a vaccine,” she said.
While the chance of reaction is extremely rare, and it's not yet known if the vaccine caused the blood clots, there are some things to look out for if you’re concerned, said Dr. Robyn Strosaker, chief operating officer at University Hospitals.
“If you’ve received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last three weeks and you develop a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath, you should certainly contact your health care provider,” Dr. Strosaker said.
It’s especially important to watch for symptoms if you’ve had blood clots in the past, said Dr. Amy Ray, an infectious disease specialist at MetroHealth.
“If you’ve received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and you’ve had a blood clot, that’s when you should really have yourself attuned to your symptoms,” she said.
But she said the news should not make people think they will have a reaction to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“It does alarm me that the interpretation of some of these things by the general public is, ‘Oh the Johnson & Johnson vaccine causes blood clots,’” Ray said. “That’s not what the data is showing. What is being said is, we need to take a deeper dive.”
Shaker Heights resident Corrie Carney received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 15 and said she is not concerned about the recent reports of blood clots.
“I haven’t had any adverse effects,” she said. “I was a little sore for a day, a little tired for a day, and that’s it.”
Carney is a pharmacist, and she is concerned that people won’t get vaccinated because of the news.
“I would still encourage anybody who talks to me, from a professional standpoint, to still get vaccinated,” she said.
Fairview Park resident Mark Ramunno agrees. He got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on March 22, and he's more concerned about how this will impact the vaccine rollout.
“My concern is this setback is going to slow down the entire vaccination process and unfortunately slow down a mass opening within the economy,” Ramunno said.
He will continue following the news, and he trusts federal health agencies will make the right decisions based on public safety.
There is no evidence yet that the vaccine caused the clots but this investigation may impact community trust in the vaccine and hurt efforts to vaccinate as many people as they can to stop COVID-19, Strosaker said.
“We have been working very hard to get our community vaccinated as quickly as we can, and while this doesn’t impact (University Hospitals') operations… it will impact our ability to vaccinate the community as quickly as we would all like to overall,” she said.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that this is a very small number of cases after a very large number of doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine were given,” Strosaker said.
Nearly 7 million people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S.
University Hospitals does not currently have any supply of Johnson & Johnson, Dr. Strosaker said.
“We have had very little Johnson & Johnson supply,” she said.
“We did not have any clinics scheduled with Johnson & Johnson, and so this will have very little impact on our vaccine operations," Dr. Strosaker said.
Because the Summit County mass vaccination site closes at the end of May, Summit County Public Health said in a press release, people will be assigned a date for their second Pfizer dose at their first appointment. If they need flexibility, they should not sign up for shots at the fairgrounds.
Anyone who is vaccinated should continue to follow health guidelines, Skoda said.
“We want people to remember that this is not the time to let up your guard,” Skoda said. “You still really need to wear a mask, wash your hands, stay away from larger groups. Just be careful.”