TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Health Department has joined with the Centers for Disease Control and New York State in announcing that distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be paused locally “out of an abundance of caution” after a small number of blood clot-related side effects were found in patients after receiving the dose. The number of cases currently stands at six out of almost 7 million doses administered.

The CDC had recommended earlier on Tuesday that distribution be paused so that they could review some questions about side effects of the J&J vaccine specifically, though distribution of Pfizer and Moderna will continue unimpeded. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced later Tuesday morning that New York would be following the CDC’s recommendation.

For people who have already scheduled a Johnson & Johnson shot at a state-run site, that appointment will still be honored for today, April 13, but they will be given the Pfizer vaccination instead, meaning they will have to return in three weeks to receive their follow-up dose. It’s unclear what will happen to people whose J&J shots were scheduled for beyond today, though developments could come as soon as April 14 when the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets. Additionally, Pfizer and Moderna shots will still be administered at TCHD clinics going forward. (Sign up for the COVID-19 Vaccine Registry here)

“Safety of the vaccine is a top priority on the local, state, and national level,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “This pause is out of an abundance of caution as the CDC studies this issue further. We are continuing to vaccinate this week using Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, and will communicate available appointments through our registry. These adverse reactions are extremely rare, and at this time there is not an immediate concern regarding our local population who received Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses. Everyone, regardless of the vaccine they received, should monitor their health.”

In total, TCHD has distributed 130 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the community, many of which have gone either to the incarcerated population or people experiencing homelessness. It was used with those populations because of their transient nature, so the single-shot J&J vaccine would avoid the hassle of having to track down recipients for a second dose.

The type of blood clot was described by TCHD as “extremely rare,” but the CDC and Food and Drug Administration are recommending a distribution pause to analyze some of the adverse effects that have been reported in people. The six cases so far have impacted young to middle-aged women, appearing 6-13 days after the vaccination. If symptoms like “severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath” appear within three weeks of receiving the vaccination, people should seek advice from their primary care provider.

Further, the health department, Cayuga Health Systems and all three local colleges had just planned a College Student Vaccination Day on April 15. That has now been canceled, as the J&J vaccine was going to be used for that clinic in the hopes of vaccinating students before they return home for summer. The health department said that schools will be in touch directly with students about how to proceed, and Cornell said they look forward to scheduling another one in the future.

“While it is unfortunate that Thursday’s event has been cancelled, we encourage you to continue to seek vaccination through the TCHD COVID-19 Vaccine Registry or by visiting the New York state site registry,” wrote Sharon McMullen, Cornell’s assistant vice president of student and campus life. “It is important to note that this pause is specific to the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. Of note, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have not been associated with the potential complication currently being evaluated in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be made available to anyone 16 years or older in New York state.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com