Virginia is ceasing the use of all Johnson & Johnson vaccines while the federal government investigates rare reports of potentially dangerous blood clots among recipients of the vaccine.
Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a statement Tuesday morning that the state was halting use of the vaccine until the federal investigation is complete. Avula said the pause demonstrates that the systems in place to monitor safety are working.
Following new guidance from the federal government, Virginia will temporarily pause all use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until the @CDCgov and @US_FDA investigation is complete.
Read the full statement from @VDHgov: https://t.co/GJryUwyQjT
— Governor Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) April 13, 2021
Federal officials said Tuesday they are investigating unusual clots in six women. More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S., the vast majority with no or mild side effects.
The impact of the pause on local health districts varies. The Richmond City Health District said Tuesday that four upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccination events are being changed to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Fewer than 750 people were scheduled for those events.
The Mount Rogers Health District had planned to administer 1,000 J&J doses at a clinic at Marion High School Saturday. It now plans to administer Pfizer vaccine.
The health district that covers the Roanoke Valley and parts of the Alleghany Highlands was already receiving little to no Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the past two weeks. The district's director, Dr. Cynthia Morrow, told reporters that any appointments that were scheduled to receive J&J doses would be switched to Pfizer or Moderna. She expected the numbers of impacted people to be very small.
During a weekly call with reporters Tuesday, Morrow said the reported clotting events must be taken seriously and investigated. "I do have confidence in our process," Morrow said. "I have confidence the process has allowed us to identify that six people out of seven million people may have a complication. That's extraordinary if we think about it from a systems perspective." Morrow also emphasized that there have been no significant complications related to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine which have been in use since December and have been administered to more people.
The director of the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District said Tuesday that vaccine supply in that region is beginning to outpace demand. The region opened vaccination appointments to anyone age 16 and over last week. On Tuesday, Dr. Cynthia Morrow said there was still plenty of availability at this week's clinics despite the increased eligibility.
Several factors may be at play. Morrow said the district had been outpacing the state average for vaccinations and some localities had already vaccinated more than 90% of their over age 75 population. "So it's a natural progression that we have started to saturate the demand," Morrow noted. Pharmacies also have more vaccine available than a few months ago. Morrow said the district would begin to move away from holding large mass vaccination clinics if demand continues to wane. She said the health department would then begin to rely on smaller strike teams that focus on vulnerable and underserved populations.
There is still work to do, though. "I would love to see more younger people getting vaccinated," she admitted. Other parts of the country have seen higher hospitalization rates for younger people.
The Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District reported 271 new COVID-19 infections over the past week. That's higher than the previous week's tally of 234. The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19-related complications decline from 46 to 31. Nine additional deaths were recorded over the past week.