COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina health officials confirmed Tuesday they are pausing the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state after the federal government said they should.
The FDA issued a recommendation for 'pausing' the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine due to reports of rare blood clots. The reports involved 6 cases in women who'd recently gotten the shot out of the nearly 7 million does delivered nationwide.
DHEC said the Johnson & Johnson represented only a small amount of the vaccine distributed so far, but they've gone ahead and stopped giving does. The FDA said they're review could take several days.
"This is really evidence that we are tracking the safety of these vaccines very closely we are tracking any significant side effects the number of people who had blood clots as bad as those are relatively small," said Dr. Edward Simmer, the DHEC Director. "We caught this very early and the federal government working with state government and others have acted very quickly to take it out of circulation until we can make absolutely sure it’s safe.”
The move does not affect the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are made using a completely different process and by different companies.
He said DHEC was working to contact all providers, including the small pharmacies across the state who'd been one of the primary distributors of the vaccine.
"It will not have a significant impact most of our vaccination sites already are using either Pfizer or Moderna and those are unaffected," said Simmer. "Those vaccines have been given to millions of people across the United States with very few reported side effects so all those sites will continue which is probably 95 percent of our sites."
"We are continuing to vaccinate because there are vaccines across the state so I think the impact will be minimal and we are working to minimize it even further," he added.
While Simmer doesn’t expect the pausing of the specific vaccine to cause any major issues in South Carolina’s vaccine rollout, he understands some people may be more reluctant now, but encourages everyone to educate themselves.
“I certainly understand people’s concerns and their hesitancy, and this might add to that. That is very fair, and I think that is reasonable, I certainty encourage people to get information about these vaccines," Simmer said. "We caught this very early and the federal government working with state government and others have acted very quickly to take it out of circulation until we can make absolutely sure it’s safe.”
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) then issued the following statement:
South Carolina public health officials received word this morning, like many throughout the nation and the state, that the CDC and FDA have recommended immediately pausing use of the Janssen vaccine due to concerns with blood clotting. Our top priority is protecting the health and safety of the public. This pause is evidence of very close safety monitoring as part of the strict quality assurance that is in place to ensure patient safety.
DHEC has placed an immediate pause on our Janssen distribution and has contacted providers to alert them of this new development. In addition, we are currently in the process of rescheduling or changing planned vaccine types for events that were going to use Janssen.
We recognize that this will impact our current supply of vaccines across the state and are awaiting to hear more information from the federal government. South Carolina, like most states, had been receiving a small amount of Janssen vaccine from the federal government — about 7,000 doses a week — compared to the more than 40,000 doses each of Pfizer and Moderna we receive each week. Because of this, the pause on Janssen vaccine is less of an impact in our state than we would experience if a pause occurred on Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Millions of people in the United States have received doses of vaccines with very little side effects.
We continue to encourage South Carolinians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to best protect yourself and others and will keep everyone updated as we learn more about the Janssen vaccine.
The most current list of vaccination sites in South Carolina using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be found here.
In a joint statement, the CDC and FDA said:
"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. 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."