Along with the rest of the nation, Santa Barbara County gave the all clear for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Monday. Six cases of women developing blood clots, one fatally, had caused federal health authorities to “pause” the coronavirus medication, also called the Janssen vaccine, on April 13. Centers for Disease Control and Food & Drug Administration officials lifted the advisory saying a review of the cases and the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System led to the determination that the benefits outweighed the risk.
The review discovered 15 cases of a rare but severe form of blood clotting in the brain combined with low platelet levels (blood platelets aid in clotting) among the nearly 8 million doses of the Janssen vaccine given nationwide. All the cases occurred in women ages 18-49, with a median of 37 years old, and 6-15 days after vaccination. In releasing the vaccine for use again, officials stated the pause had enabled physicians to understand what to do when confronted with a patient exhibiting symptoms and gave them time to conduct the review. “This pause was an example of our extensive safety monitoring working as they were designed to work — identifying even these small number of cases,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner.
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine holds a great value for wide distribution as a single shot that can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require that patients return for a second booster and must be stored at extremely cold temperatures. The symptoms of blood clot added to the vaccine’s fact sheet are “shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision, and easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection.”
In announcing the resumption of administering the J&J vaccine, County Public Health leader Van Do-Reynoso said no cases were in Santa Barbara and praised the transparency evidenced by the pause and the review of cases by not only federal authorities but West Coast authorities as well. “We acknowledge that our community may still have reservations but please know that Public Health remains committed to providing transparency about the vaccines being administered and also providing different options countywide for vaccination,” Do-Reynoso-said. “Safety is a top priority in this effort and this pause was an example of the vaccination safety review system working as intended.”
While both Lompoc Valley Medical Center and Marian Regional Medical Center have J&J doses on hand, their clinics have not yet resumed using the drug.
Cottage Health, with its ability to store low-temperature vaccine, had not administered the Janssen vaccine. But vaccine availability has grown so much — from 1,000 doses per week in the early days to 10,000 more recently — that clinic dates increased from two days a week to five. As well, the Goleta Cottage location added a walk-thru and bicycle-up tent, and also created a walk-up without appointment on certain days — this week it’s April 29 and 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. As many as 100 people a day bicycled or walked in by appointment, and up to 500 during the first no-appointment-needed sessions.
More than half the county has received at least one dose of vaccine or been exposed to the virus, according to the numbers at Public Health’s dashboard — but it should be noted that a second shot is highly recommended for full protection and that people who’ve had COVID are advised to get the vaccine, too. Cottage officials noted herd immunity was still not in the immediate future, but every person vaccinated was a huge step closer to that goal.