BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are recommending a pause on the use of all doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, leading to appointment cancellations across the Southern Tier.
According to a statement from the two agencies, there have been six reported cases of a “rare and severe” type of blood clot after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S.
Broome County received more than 1,000 doses of the single-shot vaccine to use this week. The county has since canceled all appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at its clinics, one of which was supposed to serve veterans and their families.
The county’s 14,000 veterans often live in the region’s most rural areas and off-the-grid, according to Ben Margolius with the Southern Tier Veterans Support Group. Many are older, lack internet access and have a hard time getting around because of mobility-limiting conditions and injuries,.
“It’s a challenge to A, get the word out to them, and B, to find ways to get them hooked up to a vaccination site,” Margolius said.
For vulnerable residents like rural veterans, the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot would be ideal.
Rebecca Kaufman, Director of the Broome County Health Department, said the county will store its Johnson & Johnson doses in a freezer, where they can stay for months. The veterans’ clinic and others involving the vaccine in question, however, will be put on pause and reevaluated as new information is available.
In a statement Tuesday, the New York Department of Health (DOH) said it will keep all appointments booked at its mass vaccination sites, giving residents the Pfizer vaccines instead.
But counties, especially those in rural areas, cannot make that switch as easily. Kaufman said New York’s counties get weekly allotments from the state and don’t have the resources to be as nimble.
“We don’t have the availability of doses like the state does that we can swap what we had today with a different type of vaccine,” she said.
Kaufman said she hopes veterans and others scheduled for appointments will sign up to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead as they become available, but she is worried some people will take the federal agencies’ recommendation as a pause on all vaccines—not just Johnson & Johnson.
“At this point, we do not have safety concerns,” Kaufman said of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. “We highly encourage people to make Pfizer and Moderna appointments as quickly as they can.”
The CDC and FDA said the blood clots identified are extremely rare, and stressed that people who develop symptoms like severe headache, leg pain and shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the shot should contact their doctor.
Broome County is expected to receive 1,170 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in this week’s allotment. Kaufman said the county has appointments open for the Pfizer vaccine as of Tuesday. Those appointments will occur later this week and next week at the SUNY Broome Ice Center.
In Tompkins County, the heath department canceled its College Student Vaccination Day, where it planned to administer the Johnson & Johnson shot to Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community Colleges students. Health officials there said students will receive additional communications directly from their respective universities.