BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's health department told the state’s vaccine providers Tuesday to stop administering the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine immediately, after federal officials announced they are investigating possible links between the one-shot vaccine and severe blood clots.
“Louisiana takes vaccine safety very seriously, and this pause should give the public and providers confidence the system of monitoring and safety checks are working as intended,” the health department said in its advisory to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies distributing vaccine doses.
“If you are a provider with J&J doses, while you should pause administration, please continue to store them in your refrigerator,” the advisory said.
Ochsner Health quickly shifted a Tuesday vaccination event in New Orleans that planned to use Johnson & Johnson shots to instead use the Pfizer vaccine. Louisiana's largest health system said it was contacting all patients with scheduled appointments for the one-dose J&J vaccine to notify them that they'll receive one of the available two-dose vaccines.
“We have adequate supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and will not need to cancel or reschedule upcoming appointments or vaccine events,” Ochsner Health said in its statement.
The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System — which operates Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, among its nine hospitals — also announced it was shifting entirely to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for its immunization events.
Several community vaccination events that planned to use Johnson & Johnson vaccines were being rescheduled or switching to other vaccines.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended the country “pause” use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six cases of rare blood clots were found among the 6.8 million people vaccinated with the doses.
More than 2.2 million vaccine doses have been administered in Louisiana. Fewer than 4% of the doses — about 85,000 — were from Johnson & Johnson. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state has seen no reported cases of the rare blood clot so far.
“While I understand that this news may be concerning, I remain committed to working alongside public health experts to make sure people can get the answers they need to make an informed decision,” Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Louisiana’s health department said the blood clots being investigated “appear to be extremely rare.” But the agency said anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and develops severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of immunization should contact a health care provider.
The governor urged people to continue getting vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna doses.
But the concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could make it harder to fill available vaccination appointments in a state where officials already are having trouble persuading people to get the shots. CDC data shows Louisiana is among the bottom tier of states in per capita vaccine distribution.
Nearly 1.4 million people in Louisiana — 30% of the state’s total population — have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to state health department data. More than 966,000 people have been fully immunized, about 21%. That's far below the threshold that scientists say is needed to stop the uncontrolled spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.