ROCHESTER, Minn. — State officials on Tuesday, April 13, said the CDC recommendation to put a pause on distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is an example of the system working effectively to pick up even the smallest signals of harm.
"While we are not aware of any cases among the 184,000 Minnesotans who have had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine so far, we do appreciate the thoroughness of this process," state health commissioner Jan Malcolm said of the rare blood clotting side effect during a news conference at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in St. Paul.
"This is the way the process is supposed to work, that when there are safety signals like this it is immediately followed up on."
On Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the federal government is reviewing data involving "six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine." The six cases were of more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of Monday, April 12, according to the CDC.
The release identified a type of blood clot known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and accompanied by low levels of blood platelets. The six cases all occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and appeared six to 13 days after receiving the vaccine.
The CDC recommends states pause the use of the J&J vaccine "out of an abundance of caution."
"If you have experienced symptoms including severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we want you to check it out with your health care provider," Malcolm said. "Our understanding from CDC director (Rochelle) Walensky is that this is likely to be a matter of days, not weeks or months, before we have some further information about this."
"This is being done out of an abundance of caution," said Gov. Tim Walz. "This is the way the system is supposed to work. I would anticipate this will be a relatively short pause. But I will note 95% of the vaccines distributed in Minnesota have been Pfizer or Moderna. There have been 184,000 of us, including myself, my wife, former Gov. (Tim) Pawlenty and commissioner Malcolm who have received the J&J vaccine."
Health officials acknowledged it's challenging to address a safety pause when vaccine hesitancy is a barrier in parts of the community.
"We do understand this will prompt another round of questions," Malcolm said. "It will reinforce our need on getting good information to people, and from people they can trust."
Officials addressed the vaccine issue while unveiling a new FEMA site at the fairgrounds in St. Paul. The site will be used for dispensing the Pfizer vaccine to the hardest-hit communities, regions with ZIP codes high on the CDC's social vulnerability index.
"It's making sure these vaccines are safe," Walz said of the pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution.
"But as it stands right now in this country, your chances of dying of COVID are 1 in 560, and your chance of having this reaction from the vaccine is one in a million ... I would anticipate at some time Johnson & Johnson will come back online."
"Our Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will continue at a high level. You'll see about a 5% drop-off. It will not impact our nation leading effort to get to 80% vaccinated, and that's exactly what this FEMA site is meant to do."
The CDC has stated that it will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday, April 14, "to further review these cases and assess their potential significance."