CHESTERTOWN — Maryland health officials on Tuesday, April 13 told vaccinators to stop the use of the Johnson and Johnson coronavirus vaccine amid concerns about adverse side effects — in particular dangerous blood clots among women.
Federal health agencies said they are reviewing reports of a rare and severe type of blood clot developing among six of the more than 7 million people who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider,” reads a joint statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The people who experienced the dangerous side effects were all women between ages 18 and 48.
“Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously,” the FDA and CDC said in the statement.
The Kent County Health Department canceled a Johnson and Johnson clinic scheduled for Wednesday, April 14. According to a notice from the health department, those who had scheduled an appointment for the clinic will be contacted to reschedule for the following week, when they will be able to get their first of the two-dose Moderna vaccine.
In an email Wednesday, April 14, Kent County Health Officer William Webb said the news also led to a pause in planning a clinic aimed at vaccinating Washington College students before they departed for the summer.
“This involved a collaborative effort between Washington College Student Health Services and ACME pharmacy services,” Webb said. “It likely would have involved several hundred students seeking vaccination.”
Webb said in a followup call that getting the students vaccinated before they left at the end of the semester and being able to have their vaccination record on hand for when they returned in the fall would have “greatly simplified things.”
In addition, a clinic to be held in the Warwick area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week has been postponed.
In his email, Webb said that partnership with the Cecil County Health Department would have brought 1,500 doses to the area in six days.
“If you have received the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, please note that the side effects being investigated are rare; should you have any concerns, please consult with your healthcare provider,” the health department notice states.
The setback with Johnson and Johnson shots appeared to frustrate health officials, as many said they had hoped to get people fully vaccinated more quickly with the one-shot vaccine.
Webb said that while the suspension of Johnson and Johnson vaccines has adversely impacted Kent County’s efforts, the setback should only be temporary.
“The Health Department and other local providers continue to receive supplies of vaccines from different manufacturers. We are committed to getting all residents immunized as quickly as possible,” Webb said in his email.
Rich Williams, emergency preparedness administrator with the Talbot County Health Department, called it “unfortunate” that the vaccine had to be sidelined.
“I was hoping that with the Johnson and Johnson we would be able to get just one and done, but that’s on hold,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get our hands on some Pfizer and Moderna.”
Webb asked that everyone remain patient and committed to “what is the most complicated public health response in modern history.”
“The Kent County Health Department understands the disruption this has caused for many who were patiently awaiting their turn. This event reminds us of the high standards for safety and efficacy the FDA and CDC holds in our battle against COVID-19,” Webb said.
Talbot County remains among the most-vaccinated jurisdictions in Maryland based on population percentage. Nearly 48% of Talbot residents have gotten at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 34% are fully vaccinated.
Kent County is second on the Mid-Shore with 24% fully vaccinated and third highest in the state. Queen Anne’s County is reporting 18% of its residents are fully vaccinated; Caroline County, 19%; and Dorchester County, 20%, according to state health data updated on April 13.
Additional reporting by Kent County News Associate Editor Trish McGee.