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NYS suspends use of J&J vaccine, in line with national pause

Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of the Governor
A Suffolk County Community College student receives the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine Monday. One day later, the federal government called for a halt on usage of that specific vaccine, citing concerns over blood clots.

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said the state will stop administering the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

The change is in line with a joint recommendation issued Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration.

Existing New York State appointments for J&J vaccines will be honored, but replaced by the two-dose Pfizer vaccine.

The move by federal regulators was spurred by six cases of rare blood clotting in individuals who received the J&J vaccine. The side effects manifested 6-13 days after the single-dose vaccine was administered.

All of the cases occurred in women between the ages 18-48. One died and another was hospitalized in critical condition. The six cases come from more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J inoculation administered as of Monday.

“We have stopped using Johnson & Johnson in this state,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

The governor spoke Tuesday at an unrelated event at an apple orchard that was closed to the media and the public, and where he answered no questions about the vaccine delay. Cuomo said there are enough alternative doses available for state-run vaccination sites to continue.

“We do have enough Pfizer and we do have enough Moderna vaccination to keep our schedule,” he said.

People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider, according to the CDC and Zucker.

In a written statement, Zucker noted that the change to state policy was made out of an abundance of caution and the issue appears to be "extremely rare":

Credit New York State Department of Health
The entire statement from New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, issued Tuesday morning.

The FDA and CDC held a joint press conference at 10 a.m. Watch it here:

While the delay won’t affect the state’s mass vaccination sites for now, it will impact the State University system, which had planned on using 21,000 J&J doses to vaccinate as many students as possible before the end of the spring semester.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, speaking at an event in Syracuse, said the pause will affect those plans.

“Today was a little bit of a curveball for us," Malatras said.

He said SUNY is working with the state to locate alternative vaccines, including Pfizer and Moderna, and he said no one should cancel their appointments because substitute doses have already been found in some cases.

“We liked the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because it was one and done,” Malatras said. “It was very easy for our residential students to get one shot and then go home for the semester.”

Malatras said if the campuses have to shift to the two-dose vaccines, the process might not be finished before the semester ends in a few weeks. He said if that happens, SUNY health officials will try to make arrangements so that students can get one or both doses at home.

The vaccines are not mandatory, but Malatras left the door open for a requirement for students if enough do not get vaccinated voluntarily by the end of the summer.

The vaccination delay comes as the state continues to ramp up access to vaccine sites. Cuomo announced that the state-run site at SUNY Albany, which has been administering 2,000 shots a day, will be moved to the nearby Crossgates Mall beginning Friday. The vaccinations will be given in a recently closed Lord & Taylor department store, which has the capacity to give out 6,000 doses a day.

Federal officials hope the Johnson & Johnson pause will only last for a few days.

Schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the New York State online portal here.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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