California pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Golden State to expand vaccinations to 16 and older this week

AS California is slated to broaden its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to younger residents this week, the state is heeding the federal government’s recommendation to halt the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The announcement to “pause” the type of vaccine on Tuesday, April 13 “out of an abundance of caution” comes after rare, yet potentially dangerous blood clots were reported among six women days after they received the single-dose shot. One woman died, according to the Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that they are investigating the cases, which occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48 with symptoms appearing 6 to 13 days after vaccination.

“In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia),” the joint statement read. “Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered. Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.”

More than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered across the country as of this week.

Both the CDC and FDA assured that the adverse effects are “extremely rare” but recommended that individuals contact their health care provider if they develop symptoms such as a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Following the announcement, California — which is expanding vaccine distribution to everyone 16 and older starting April 15 — is directing health care providers down the state to pause the use of the vaccine until further guidance from health and safety experts.

“Additionally, the state will convene the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup to review the information provided by the federal government on this issue. As the federal government has said, we do not expect a significant impact to our vaccination allocations. In California, less than 4% of our vaccine allocation this week is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist, in a statement.

The county and city of Los Angeles — as well as the surrounding counties of Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino — are also following suit.

“Vaccine providers in Los Angeles County will contact patients about rescheduling or providing a new appointment for Pfizer or Moderna vaccine,” the LA County Department of Public Health said in a statement.

Governor Gavin Newsom said the Johnson & Johnson pause won’t hinder the state’s “ability to fulfill our expectation” to open up vaccinations to everyone 16 and older on April 15 or to fully reopen the economy by June 15.

Several counties and cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Alameda and Contra Costa have been able to open up appointments to the newly eligible age groups before the statewide date.

People age 16 and up can get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine while the Moderna vaccine is for people 18 and older.

Over 23.2 million doses have been administered in the Golden State to date. Of that number, 8.87 million Californians are considered fully vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, Merced is the only county in the most restrictive purple tier. Meanwhile, 21 counties are in the red (substantial), 33 in the orange (moderate), and three in the yellow (minimal) tier.

With the June 15 target reopening, the governor said the state will move away from its color-coded tier system under the Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Also on Thursday, California will allow indoor live events and performances for in-state visitors with certain restrictions. The safety measures include eating and drinking at pre-designated areas, mask wearing at all times and 6-feet physical distancing.

Private indoor gatherings, which include weddings and conferences, will also be permitted if all the tiers except the purple.

“The way we defeat this disease, the way we turn the page, is we get vaccinated,” Newsom said. “The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we open our businesses without any restrictions.” Every Californian can sign up at myturn.ca.gov or call (833) 422-4255 to see if it’s their turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

LA County residents can get an appointment at vaccinatelacounty.com or by calling (833) 540-0473 between 8 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

Local officials remind residents that the vaccine is available at no cost regardless of immigration status and health care coverage.

“It is still important that you provide documentation that you live or work within LA County and provide some sort of photo identification. That photo identification doesn’t necessarily have to be government-issued,” Dr. Eloisa Gonzalez, director of cardiovascular and school health at the LA County Department of Public Health, said during a virtual news briefing.

With more segments of the population signing up for the vaccine, groups who have been eligible, such as those over the age of 65 and individuals with underlying health conditions, but have not yet received one of two doses are still being encouraged to get inoculated.

“Insurance and immigration status are not required and the vaccine is always free. You will not have to pay anything out of pocket for the vaccine, and none of your information is shared with immigration officials,” Gonzalez said.

Christina M. Oriel
Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is the Managing Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach her at christina@asianjournalinc.com.

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