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caption: Pharmacist Rui Wen prepares to administer a Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for an employee of the Safeway Distribution Center on Monday, March 22, 2021, in Auburn.
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Pharmacist Rui Wen prepares to administer a Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for an employee of the Safeway Distribution Center on Monday, March 22, 2021, in Auburn.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Washington state halts Johnson & Johnson vaccinations amid blood clot investigation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called for a pause of the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, after six out of the nearly seven million Americans who received the vaccine developed rare, but dangerous blood clots.

State health officials say that means Washingtonians scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may have to wait or accept other vaccine options.

Washington Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said that the particular complication with Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is so rare that he still considers it safe and effective.

“People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the last two to three weeks and who develop severe headache or abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath should absolutely contact their health care provider,” he said.

Scott Lindquist with the Washington Department of Health said they're pausing only out of an abundance of caution, and to use that time to investigate whether the vaccine caused the patients' clotting.

"I really caution us not to jump to conclusions that it is truly from the vaccine," Lindquist said. "It is us pausing to look at this more carefully.”

To date, approximately 149,000 doses of the Johnsons & Johnson Covid vaccine have been administered in Washington state. Nationwide, about 6.8 million doses have been administered across the United States and six cases of blood clots are being investigated.

To put the Johnson & Johnson pause in context, Shah pointed to blood clot risks commonly associated with contraceptive pills.

“When it comes to oral contraceptive pills, the risk of blood clots is somewhere in the range of 500 to 1,000 women out of a million women who are taking those," he said. "So, again, it’s a reminder that when we’re talking about one in a million [with the Johnsons & Johnson vaccine], that puts a scope and scale in the midst of this.”

Washington state health officials say they only expect the Johnson & Johnson pause to last for a week at most, until experts can get information to providers about the best way to treat blood clots if they occur.

Shah said the state will forge ahead with plans to offer Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to everyone 16 and older starting Thursday, April 15. The state was expecting to receive 21,500 Johnson & Johnson doses — making up roughly 2% of total vaccine doses — over the next three weeks.

Providers who were originally offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are being asked to offer impacted patients other vaccines instead, or reschedule their appointments depending on supply.

King County officials say they'll offer impacted patients the Pfizer vaccine at the county's Kent site and Moderna at the Auburn clinic. Pierce County officials say they'll switch over to the Moderna vaccine for now for patients scheduled for Johnson & Johnson appointments.