State health officials said April 14 they are slated to reschedule thousands of New Jersey adults who are in line to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, amid a state and national pause on its use.
That follows news that six recipients of the J&J shot developed rare blood clots, out of the roughly 7 million Americans who received that vaccine.
In New Jersey, 235,000 people who received the J&J vaccine out of the 5.6 million doses administered since Dec. 15 last year. The state received roughly 15,600 J&J doses this week.
“I want to repeat that no one who has received this vaccine should panic or worry,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a Wednesday, April 14 daily COVID-19 press briefing. “This review by the [Centers for Disease Control] and the [Food and Drug Administration] is coming out of an abundance of caution.”
The CDC is scheduled to review the cases at their April 14 meeting, which began at 1:30 p.m.
“They’re not going to walk out of the room today without providing some guidance,” said Eddy Bresnitz, the state’s COVID-19 medical advisor. “People are going to want to know ‘can we put forward the vaccine,’ that’s a big decision that needs to be made, but it needs to be made quickly.”
The pause could wield a blow to plans from elected leaders like Murphy and President Joe Biden to reach a semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy by the summer. Biden’s White House has assured that the goals are still reachable.
And Murphy has reiterated that he believes the state will still fully vaccinate 4.7 million adults by the end of June. That number stands at nearly 2.3 million people as of April 14. Full vaccine eligibility opens on April 19 to everyone over the age of 16.
“The total number of doses administered of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is just under 5.4 million, and the stability in their supply and distribution is why we remain confident of our ability to still meet our June 30 vaccination goals,” the governor said.
Those both require two shots spaced roughly a month apart, unlike the single-shot J&J version. That, coupled with the much more mild storage temperature requirements, made the J&J shots a far more attractive option.
The worst-hit sites were those only offering the J&J vaccine, said New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. None of them have the infrastructure in place to accept the Pfizer or Moderna doses, and so patients scheduled to receive the J&J shot need to be moved elsewhere. It is not clear how many sites are only offering the J&J shot.
None of the mega-sites have been affected, nor was Hackensack Meridian Health in Bergen County, according to Persichilli.
“The large sites are keeping the appointments and filling them with Moderna or Pfizer,” Persichilli said.
Health officials at Ocean, Monmouth and Somerset counties are in the process of moving J&J patients over to the Pfizer or Moderna versions, Persichilli added.
But it’s not certain that the state is receiving any added doses beyond the current weekly allotment.
State officials will not dip into the Pfizer and Moderna second-dose supply. But Persichilli said the state is telling local health officials and executives to shorten how long they’re reserving shots for the second dose, down from three weeks to two weeks.
Vaccine sites are being told to properly store and monitor their J&J vaccines until there is more federal health guidance.
Some of the worst-affected will be the hard-to-reach and vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, elderly and lower-income, urban New Jerseyans. State and local health officials were hoping to use the J&J vaccine to reach those demographics, given the easier transportation and storage requirements.
“Those persons will be impacted and may have to be scheduled to alternate sites if that is possible,” the health commissioner said. “Although it would be more complex to administer a two-dose vaccine for some of those special populations, if we need to go forward with a two-dose vaccine… we are committed to equitable access to those vaccines.”
But the process for delivering those doses still has to be hashed out, Murphy and Persichilli said.
“We will get to them. It’s just going to be more complicated or take longer,” the governor said.m