Kansas will stop using Johnson & Johnson vaccine following federal guidance over possible side effect

Andrew Bahl Blaise Mesa
Topeka Capital-Journal

Kansas will follow a federal recommendation to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six individuals developed blood clots as a possible side effect. 

State health officials note none of those cases occurred in Kansas, but Health Secretary Lee Norman said Tuesday morning that it was better to heed the federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration just hours earlier.

"It is a small number, but you can’t turn a blind eye to something as significant as that," Norman said on a media briefing hosted by the University of Kansas Health System. "We, therefore, are falling in line with (the federal guidelines)."

More:FDA, CDC recommend pausing use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after reports of rare but severe blood clots

The federal health agencies released a statement Tuesday morning recommending the pause “out of an abundance of caution,” saying blood clots still seem to be “extremely rare.” So far, the CDC and FDA are reviewing six reported cases in the U.S.

Health Secretary Lee Norman said Tuesday morning the state will stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in line with federal guidance released earlier in the day.

All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48, with symptoms occurring 6 to 13 days after vaccination, according to the statement. One woman died and one has been hospitalized in critical condition, the New York Times reported.

How will Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause impact Kansas?

Norman said a handful of vaccine clinics were scheduled for Tuesday morning to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but those have been canceled.

It is unclear how the move will impact the state's vaccination efforts more broadly. Kansas moved last week into Phase 5 of its vaccine plan, meaning all adults 16 and older are eligible for the shots.

The decision to expand eligibility was in part predicated on getting more Johnson & Johnson shots, although production delays and errors have meant the state has gotten far fewer doses then it was initially anticipating.

More:More than one-third of Kansans now have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, KDHE and CDC data shows

Norman pointed this out, saying he didn't believe it would have a meaningful impact on Kansans accessing the shots.

"I don’t think it is going to be a huge setback," he said.

Clinics using the Johnson & Johnson doses will shift over to using the Pfizer and Moderna products, he said.

Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease expert at The University of Kansas Health System, said this was an example of the vaccine safety controls put in place working. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice will have a meeting Wednesday to analyze the matter, with the FDA expected to follow suit.

"These mechanisms have been in place since day one and continue to be," Hawkinson said. "And I think this is a great example of saying 'We identified something that has a signal of being a possible bad side effect or something there affecting safety so we are just going to put a pause on this.'

"And I think that’s a good story as well."

How does the Johnson & Johnson pause affect Shawnee County?

Craig Barnes, division manager of the Shawnee County Health Department's Community Health Outreach and Planning program, said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was useful when vaccinating transient populations and homebound individuals because only one shot was needed.

Johnson & Johnson accounted for 1% of the Shawnee County Health Department's vaccinations.

Barnes is confident Shawnee County still has enough supply of other vaccines to schedule appointments even though the pause sidelined vaccine doses.

“There are a lot of open schedules for vaccine appointments across Shawnee County,” Barnes said. “It should be pretty easy for someone who is interested in receiving the vaccine to be able to schedule an appointment.”

He wasn’t immediately sure how many Johnson & Johnson doses the county has but said the health department wasn’t even expecting many doses after the state’s allocation was severely cut.

Barnes doesn’t expect doses of Johnson & Johnson will spoil while a review takes place. He said the department will have supply ready to go if the doses are approved for use again.

“We are still encouraging people to get the vaccine when they are eligible and able,” Barnes said.

USA Today's Adrianna Rodriguez contributed to this report.