COLUMBIA, S.C. — For anyone postponing getting the COVID-19 vaccine until the pause on the Johnson & Johnson shots is lifted, health experts say that's not a good idea.
Tuesday, the CDC and FDA recommended vaccine providers pause giving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine after 6 people out of 6.8 million experienced a rare and severe type of blood clot.
In a press briefing Friday with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, or SCDHEC, Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly, said the pause will likely stay put on the J & J vaccine.
She believes a decision could be made after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meets next Friday to discuss safety. The panel provides advice and guidance to the CDC director regarding the vaccine.
"These are rare complications, they seem to be unique to vaccines. So [committee members] want to understand, is there some reason that these individuals were at increased risk and try to understand a little bit more about these rare complications," said Kelly. "Remember, about 3.5 million doses of the Janssen vaccine had been given in the two weeks prior to that pause. They want to make sure they leave enough time that if there are other cases that might come in that they have an ability to recognize those cases through the vaccine reporting system."
As of Friday, DHEC says they haven't received any reports of severe blood clots from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in South Carolina.
Dr. Kelly recommends you don't wait for a specific vaccine. Instead, get the first shot that's available.
Other topics discussed in Friday's briefing addressed allergy concerns.
Dr. Kelly says if you've had allergic reactions in the past to food, a bee sting, fire ants, or even other medications, you should still get the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Severe allergic reactions are relatively rare, about 3 to 5 severe allergic reactions per million doses of vaccine," said Kelly. "The rate might be a little higher in people who are allergic to other things, but every place where we are delivering the vaccine we have people with the training and the medication to take care of you if there is a severe allergic reaction."
If you've been vaccinated and experienced side effects, there's a way to report them to the CDC via text message. This data will help in national research on the vaccine.
"You can sign up for a text message every day for a week after the vaccine from the CDC, asking you how are you doing? How are you feeling?" Kelly explained. "There's also a fill-in-the blank field where you can report something. They [will text you] every day for a week and then weekly for another 7 or 8 weeks after that. If you don't sign up before, you still can."
To sign up for the V-safe system from the CDC, click here.
In terms of case numbers in the Palmetto State, DHEC says we're experiencing a small uptick.
Dr. Kelly says DHEC predicted this trend, as it comes just a couple of weeks after the Passover, Easter and Spring Break holidays for many South Carolinians. Before the holidays, case numbers in the state were at a plateau.
DHEC doesn't believe this slight increase in cases is too alarming at the moment, but they are continuing to closely monitor the numbers.
The newer cases being reported, according to Dr. Kelly, are from the younger age groups who aren't vaccinated in numbers just yet.
"We're still urging people who may view themselves as, 'I am young, I am healthy, I'm not worried if I get COVID-19', to reconsider," said Kelly. "Reconsider getting vaccinated for several reasons. Number one, even if you are young and healthy, we have seen young, previously healthy people become very ill with COVID-19. Yes, death is rare, but serious illness can have serious, long-term consequences. There's also something called 'long COVID' or 'long haulers', people who have COVID, maybe just mild COVID, but their symptoms linger for months. There is some evidence that vaccination can actually help you get rid of those symptoms earlier."
Kelly says we're never going to be able to stop with the masks, distancing and avoiding crowds until we have most people vaccinated.
DHEC's goal is to get 70 to 80% of South Carolinians vaccinated. That timeline is still in the works.
When asked about breakthrough cases in our state, DHEC is reporting 155 so far.
Dr. Kelly expected these reports to come in, citing the efficacy rate of the Pfizer and Moderna. The majority of the state's breakthrough cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Nationally, 5,800 breakthrough cases have been reported out of 77 million fully-vaccinated people.