Colorado will comply with a federal recommendation to pause the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six cases of blood clots associated with the doses were reported nationwide and a week after a small number of adverse effects from the vaccine were reported in Commerce City.
In a media call Tuesday morning, officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the federal Food and Drug Administration said the pause would last just days and that federal vaccine officials will meet this week.
Federal officials said more than 6 million Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered nationwide. One of the six patients who developed the blood clot has died, and another is in critical condition. "All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination," CDC and FDA officials wrote in a joint statement.
In El Paso County, Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses accounted for fewer than 3% of all administered, county Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Hewitt said Tuesday. She could not provide an exact number of how many have been administered countywide because "multiple providers receive vaccine supply directly through federal allocation," she said.
"However, of the providers that receive vaccine allocations from the state, the (Johnson & Johnson) supply has been limited up to this point," she said.
Shortly after the statewide announcement Tuesday morning, Denver and El Paso County officials announced that they, too, would suspend all Johnson & Johnson vaccine use. Denver County officials "do not anticipate (the change) will impact operations" and El Paso County health officials don't expect the pause to create vaccine shortages locally, Hewitt said.
It's unclear how the pause will affect Colorado's distribution plan, which is in its final phase. The shipments for that particular dose have been significantly smaller than those of Pfizer and Moderna, but Gov. Jared Polis has said that the approval of the Johnson & Johnson doses have helped accelerate the state's vaccination timeline.
El Paso County officials expect the impact on "absolute numbers of vaccine available will be minimal" locally, Hewitt said, because the majority of the county's vaccine supply "has been and still is Moderna and Pfizer."
"We had not yet received a large steady supply of (Johnson & Johnson) so do not expect the impact of this pause to create any shortages," she said.
El Paso County will continue vaccinating people with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and encourage people to return for their required second dose, Hewitt said.
The CDC and FDA officials said the Johnson & Johnson pause was intended to educate the U.S.'s health systems and providers on how to identify and treat the blood clots. The specific clot associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can react poorly to traditional treatment, they said. Officials stressed that the clotting was extremely rare and that the pause is out an abundance of caution.
In a statement announcing Colorado's compliance, the state Department of Public Health and Environment wrote that the "health and safety of all Coloradans is a top priority." Residents who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than a month ago "are at a very low risk of serious side effects."
The standard side effect of the vaccine is flu-like symptoms. Warning signs of the clotting include abdominal and leg pain, as well as shortness of breath. Anyone experiencing those symptoms after receiving a dose should contact their medical provider immediately, health officials said.
Eleven people at a Commerce City mass vaccination site last week reported adverse reactions hours after getting the Johnson & Johnson dose, health officials reported. Two people were transported to the hospital and discharged after evaluation. State health officials said anxiety and a lack of pre-vaccination food likely played a role.
Before Tuesday's announcement of a full statewide suspension, Centura Health, which held the Commerce City event, told the Gazette it would continue to offer Johnson & Johnson in its clinical settings, where observation of patients is easier. After Tuesday's announcement, Centura said in a statement that it would suspend Johnson & Johnson vaccine use across its health system in Colorado and Kansas.