Regina Sung, Contributing Photographer
Following a recommendation from The Connecticut Department of Public Health, or DPH, New Haven announced on Tuesday morning that it will pause its administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
The DPH’s announcement follows the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration’s announcement on Tuesday morning, which recommended a nationwide pause of the use of the J&J vaccine. The FDA and CDC made the recommendation after six rare cases nationwide of individuals suffering from a blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis after receiving the J&J vaccine. No Connecticut residents have been diagnosed with this condition. About 7.2 million J&J vaccines have already been administered nationwide, meaning that just one in a million people who received the vaccine developed blood clots. Public health experts have emphasized that the pause comes from an abundance of caution.
According to the White House, the pause will likely last “days,” not weeks. The DPH is encouraging vaccine providers to only provide either Moderna or Pfizer vaccines while J&J is suspended, including for appointments scheduled on Tuesday. New Haven providers have adapted to the new guidance.
“The Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends that COVID vaccine providers pause administration of the J&J vaccine for the time being while the FDA and CDC complete their review,” the DPH said in a press release from Tuesday morning.
According to the DPH, Connecticut has vaccinated “roughly 100,000” residents with the J&J vaccine without recording serious negative health effects. Josh Geballe, the governor’s chief operating officer, said that 40 percent of Connecticut’s vaccines administered last week were J&J, and this week alone, Connecticut received 21,000 doses of the J&J vaccine. Because the J&J vaccine is easily stored and just one dose, it is the preferred vaccine for many mobile clinics and community outreach efforts nationwide and in the Elm City. According to Geballe, Connecticut is also receiving 158,000 Pfizer and Moderna doses this week.
The DPH and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont stressed that the reported blood clot is “extremely rare.”
“That’s a one in a million chance of having that type of severe side effect,” Lamont said at a press conference Tuesday. “That’s somewhere in the area of getting struck by lightning.”
Diedre Gifford, the acting commissioner of DPH, said that the blood clotting condition emerges six to 13 days after vaccine administration. She said that, therefore, individuals who have already received the dose over two weeks ago can be “reassured.”
Some vaccination centers in New Haven that only administer J&J, like Visels Pharmacy and some CVS pharmacies, are canceling appointments today and will be canceling appointments with individuals scheduled to receive the shot. Other vaccine providers that have multiple types of vaccines in stock, like Fair Haven Community Health Clinic and Walmart, either rebooked appointments or switched all people with Tuesday appointments to a different vaccine.
According to Mayor Justin Elicker, the city’s vaccination program will follow all guidance from the CDC and the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
“In an abundance of caution, we are pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine indefinitely,” Elicker wrote in a Tuesday morning press release. “Until we have further clearance from the CDC and authorization from the State regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the City will be using the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines at all COVID-19 clinics in New Haven.
Gov. Lamont mentioned he does not believe the suspension of J&J will affect the state’s overall vaccine goals and that vaccine appointments should still be available in the future. Geballe said that many of J&J vaccinations statewide scheduled for Tuesday would still be administered, replaced by Pfizer or Moderna.
In a statement, New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond noted that a J&J vaccine clinic run with Griffin Health on Columbus Avenue scheduled for Tuesday will be postponed to Wednesday and will utilize Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead. Another vaccine site at Career High School, she added, is using just the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Other clinics scheduled for this week, she said, “were not affected.”
In a press conference at City Hall Tuesday morning, Bond stressed that while the city is taking necessary precautions, residents should not hesitate to get their shots from Pfizer or Moderna.
Local community organizations are also putting a hold on their J&J vaccination efforts.
Junta for Progressive Action, a Latinx nonprofit in New Haven, called on its members to cancel scheduled J&J appointments throughout the rest of the week. Director of Communications Desiree McMahon told the News the CDC warning may add to existing religious and health concerns in the community around the vaccine.
Some religious communities have expressed concern over the use of aborted fetal tissue in the J&J vaccines development and production. However, a press release from the Vatican last year said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive the J&J vaccine if the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not available to them.
“Our main purpose is to educate people and dispel myths,” said McMahon. “A lot of [these myths] in our communities stem from the language barrier. They’re getting a lot of misinformation from multiple different sources.”
The Yale Community Health Care Van, which was administering the J&J vaccine at its mobile vaccination clinics across the city, has also temporarily switched to Pfizer. Walk of Faith Church of Christ in Fair Haven has scheduled a clinic with the Community Health Care Van on Friday.
Fay Williams, who helped organize the Walk of Faith clinic, said that CHCV called her this morning to let her know that all 60 of the individuals scheduled to be vaccinated on Friday can expect to receive Pfizer instead.
“I think [the government] is trying to do what is best as a whole for our nation and for the state,” said Williams. “We know that the supply and demand for a one shot is good especially for those who won’t come to the clinic a second time but they have to go back and investigate to make sure that no more harm occurs.”
Paul Genecin, the chief executive officer of Yale Health, told the News that Yale Health and Yale New Haven Health have also paused their use of the J&J vaccine. He said they are awaiting further guidance and have not yet heard from DPH about changes in vaccine distribution plans resulting from the J&J suspension.
One Yale student, Byron Ma ’23, who had a scheduled appointment for Tuesday says he was able to reschedule his vaccine appointment with Visels Pharmacy “immediately afterwards” through the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center. Ma said he did not receive a call from his pharmacy, but rescheduled it himself after seeing the announcements from health departments.
“I’m grateful that people we’re being on the more cautious side especially if we have other options,” Ma told the News.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson acknowledged the CDC’s guidance and said that “the safety and well being of the people who use our products is our number one priority.”
“We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public,” the manufacturer wrote.
The J&J vaccine was first approved for emergency use in the U.S. by the FDA on Feb. 27.
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