Health officials monitor J&J COVID-19 vaccine pause, effects on hesitancy

Health officials are concerned the temporary pause on the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could increase hesitancy, even affecting the other vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer.

The concerns surfaced after Tuesday morning’s announcement to pause the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals who received the vaccine.

None of the cases reported were from Texas, according to information shared during a media call Thursday with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Eddie Olivarez, chief administrative officer of Hidalgo County’s Health & Human Services Department, believes the news may sway those who were indecisive about taking it.

“Those people who were 60/40 — 40 yes, 60 percent no,” Olivarez said, referring to those wavering between getting the vaccine. “Those people all of a sudden, they’re waiting. It doesn’t mean they’re gone. It just means that they’re waiting.”

“I’ve not actually heard of our patients raising that issue, but I do think it’s going to be a relevant issue for people as they consider taking the vaccine,” said Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Olivarez suspects an increase in hesitancy after similar blood clots were reported in March with the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe. Last week, the Europeans Medicines Agency reported finding a possible link between the vaccine and the blood clots with low blood platelets.

Both the AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine share similar medical technology.

Dr. Jennifer Shuford, DSHS chief state epidemiologist, said AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are viral vector vaccines, unlike the Moderna and Pfizer, which are mRNA vaccines.

“There’s more evidence coming from Europe based on the AstraZeneca vaccine, but we’re still trying to work that out here in the United States with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and seeing if the patterns that we’re seeing here are similar to those that they’re seeing in Europe and what that means for these viral vector vaccines,” Shuford said.

Those who took the Johnson & Johnson vaccines are encouraged to monitor serious symptoms.

Symptoms of soreness at the injection site, tiredness, headaches and fatigue are expected, but not serious.

“The symptoms of this rare blood clotting event that are important to watch for include things like a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath that occur within three weeks of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccination,” Shuford said.

Anyone with these symptoms is encouraged to go to their doctor or healthcare provider and to report them to the government’s database, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, through its website:

More data is critical to study the full effects of the vaccine.

“There’s still just a lot of research that has to go on, but that’s why reporting these cases is so important. We need all of the information that we could possibly gather on this rare side effect to see how it’s related to the vaccine and figure out who it may be safer for,” Shuford said.

The CDC advisory panel will be using the data to re-evaluate the pause. They’ll be considering whether to recommend the use of this vaccine for the United States public, and whether it should only be recommended for specific groups, like certain sex or age groups.

“The really good news is that this type of blood clotting event has not been reported with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, which are a totally different type of vaccine,” Shuford said.

Olivarez is noticing a shift in demand across Hidalgo County, though other factors may be influencing the change.

“I don’t know that there’s a decline in demand as there is a change in the culture,” Olivarez said. “The cultural effect is people between 18 and 30 are not as interested in the vaccine as people above 30.”

He noted an increase in abandoned appointments, but he credited that to an increase in supply.

On Wednesday, the county had 1,000 scheduled doses, but 300 people did not show up. Olivarez said they later found out those who missed the appointments with the county went to other locations and neglected to call to cancel with the county.

“It’s not a bad thing if all of a sudden I didn’t meet my 1,000 quota today, because I know those other people that didn’t come to me today, they went somewhere else. And that’s good,” Olivarez stressed.

As of Thursday, about 43% of Texans eligible to receive the vaccine were vaccinated, according to DSHS.

Despite setbacks, health officials like Dr. Krouse are encouraging the public to press forward.

“This is how we’re going to get back to the lives we knew before COVID,” he said.