Inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can begin again, Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday, after a review by scientific experts in western states found the vaccine safe and effective.
The Western States Scientific Safety Review work group — composed of vaccine experts from Washington, California, Oregon and Nevada — met Friday to review data about the vaccine’s potential risks, after more than a dozen women nationwide developed rare blood clots.
“The benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks associated with it,” Inslee said in a news release. “We want to keep as many people free from COVID and out of the hospital as possible, and the J&J vaccine will help us get through this pandemic. I encourage people to get whatever vaccine is available to them. If you have questions or concerns, consult a provider …”
The federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Friday for the pause on the J&J vaccine to be lifted. The 11-day pause allowed the federal regulators to review data on blood clots and assess risks.
Out of nearly 8 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, blood clots were reported in 15 women. The clots were associated with low platelet counts and often developed in the brain.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will now come with a warning label and vaccine providers will offer information about the risks and symptoms of concern after vaccination, including shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, and neurological symptoms such as blurred vision or severe and ongoing headaches.
Public health experts are eager to return the vaccine to their arsenal against COVID-19.
Because it requires only a single dose and can be stored in a standard refrigerator, the J&J vaccine is the easiest to administer and is seen as a good choice for people who might be harder to reach or on the move, such as mariners, migrant farmworkers or homeless people without permanent shelter.
Resuming inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will boost Washington’s overall vaccine supply modestly.
Vaccine providers in the state held back 170,000 doses of J&J during the pause, according to Julie Grauert, a Department of Health spokesperson.
The one-dose shot accounts for a small proportion of Washington’s vaccine allocation in the coming weeks, said Michele Roberts, the health department’s acting assistant health secretary, during a news briefing this week.
The state expects to receive about 4,300 J&J doses during the first week of May and more than 370,000 doses between Pfizer and Moderna.
State and federal officials had been counting on J&J to rapidly expand supply in April or May, but mistakes discovered at Johnson & Johnson’s only U.S. manufacturing facility last month ruined millions of doses and slowed production.
It’s also unclear how the pause — and the blood clot risk associated with the vaccine — will affect demand.
“I really don’t know whether the pause with J&J is going to meaningfully impact people’s attitudes about vaccination in our area,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, public health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, during a Friday news briefing.
Duchin said some people might seek other vaccines, but some had expressed frustration over the pause, viewing the J&J product as their vaccine of choice because it is one dose, effective against severe COVID-19 and often produces less severe immediate side effects than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Duchin said people should take comfort that the systems designed to flag patterns of adverse reactions to vaccines worked and identified the clotting association.
“The national vaccine safety system is very sensitive,” Duchin said. “Many people will be reassured.”
He said those offered the J&J vaccine should weigh the risk of receiving it with the risks of contracting the coronavirus. More transmissible variants of the coronavirus are spreading rapidly and hospitalizations are rising in Washington state.
“COVID-19 can cause severe disease in people of all ages,” Duchin said. “There’s still a lot we don’t know about the disease and its long term health impacts.”