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Vt., NY, NH put J&J vaccination programs on ‘pause’

Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 6:22 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 6:35 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - The states of Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York announced Tuesday they will follow CDC recommendations to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the agency reviews data about rare events of blood clotting.

The U.S. is now recommending a “pause” in the administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said they were investigating unusual clots in six women that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. All six cases were in women between the ages of 18 and 48.

The Vermont Department of Health said as of Tuesday morning, 16,577 Vermonters had received the J&J vaccine, which is about 4% of the total number of doses administered. Of those who got the J&J shot, 9,373 were women.

There were about 2,000 individuals signed up Tuesday for the J&J vaccine in Vermont. That included Megan Bogonovich, who made the trip from Norwich for a shot at the Shaws supermarket in Berlin. “I was kind of psyched to have it over with,” she said. Although disappointed by the cancellation, Bogonovich said she hasn’t lost faith in any of the vaccines. “I think if the FDA said it was fine, I would still take it. I would just trust that.”

The Scott administration Tuesday stressed that they’re still confident the vaccine is safe and effective. They say they’re pausing use of the vaccine out of an abundance of caution. Data currently shows the chance of developing this blood clot condition is one in a million. “SIx cases out of 6.8 million,” Gov. Scott said. That’s compared with the danger of dying due to COVID-19 -- a one in 500-plus possibility far outweighs this risk, he said.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says that while the halt is disruptive, there’s no need to be alarmed. “When it’s something that unique, I think if they want to take a pause and be cautionary, that’s completely reasonable and we should respect that, not be fearful. Just respect that and understand that they’re going through a process that needs to happen,” he said.

Those who booked through a health department-run clinic will be contacted by the health department to reschedule. They’re offering the option to sign up for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or to wait until the J&J is cleared again for use. Human Services Secretary Mike Smith says he doesn’t believe the pause will impact Vermont’s overall vaccination timeline. “If we get more dosage, we will make sure that it gets in people’s arms,” he said.

Officials say this also won’t change the state’s Vermont Forward reopening plan and that they remain on track to meeting July 4th vaccination goals.

In New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu says this won’t slow down the state’s progress. There are currently no state-run sites in New Hampshire scheduled to administer J&J shots. For Walmart locations in New Hampshire, if you have an appointment after 1 p.m. Tuesday, you will get a different vaccine.

New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says all appointments for Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Tuesday at state-run mass vaccination sites would be honored with the Pfizer vaccine.

VERMONT HEALTH UPDATE

Despite Tuesday’s reports about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, state officials say there’s good news about COVID-19 cases in Vermont.

Data indicates COVID-19 cases in Vermont have gone down 23% in the last week, including among Vermonters ages 20 to 29, who have been driving recent case increases. The numbers for that age group were down 11% but remain disproportionately high.

The drop in cases means that some recent worst-case predictions of cases surging in the triple digits for the rest of April don’t look as likely. They are now likely to remain steady through the end of the month and then drop in May as a larger portion of the population gets vaccinated.

Even with the Johnson & Johnson pause, the state expects to meet its reopening plan targets, with anywhere from 50 to 60% of Vermont adults having had at least one dose by May, and 60 to 70% by June.

But officials had a strong message for young beachgoers seen this past weekend at North Beach in Burlington that were not following health department guidance about masks, distancing, or crowds, saying actions like this could make it easier for the virus to spread and mutate further. “I really do get it and I empathize, but I was really disappointed to see such a blatant disregard for the rules,” Dr. Levine said.

He urged young people to get vaccinated as soon as they’re able, saying there might even be a creemee in it for them down the line.

As of Tuesday, Vermont health officials reported 73 new coronavirus cases for a total of 21,388. There have been a total of 233 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 1.8%. A total of 367,280 people have been tested, and 17,601 have recovered.

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