NJ pausing J&J vaccine use following federal advisories (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//April 13, 2021

NJ pausing J&J vaccine use following federal advisories (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//April 13, 2021

New Jersey health officials and several local hospitals are pausing their roll-out of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, following an advisory sent out by the Biden administration April 13.

“Out of an abundance of caution … the New Jersey Department of Health this morning paused the administration of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine across all vaccination sites in the state,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said in an April 13 statement.

“All New Jersey vaccination sites have been told to cancel or put on hold appointments for the J&J vaccine until further notice,” she continued. “For individuals scheduled to receive the J&J vaccine, the department will work with all vaccination sites to make arrangements for the administration of an alternative two-dose vaccine.”

Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli joins Gov. Phil Murphy as he conducts a vaccine site visit at Kean University on March 26, 2021.
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli joins Gov. Phil Murphy as he conducts a vaccine site visit at Kean University on March 26, 2021. – JOSUE LORA FOR THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR

It is not clear how many New Jersey adults this will affect. Persichilli said the state is getting 15,600 J&J doses this week– the rest are Pfizer or Moderna.

Representatives from the Burlington and Hudson Counties vaccination mega-sites said they are both halting the use of the J&J vaccine. Officials at both sites said they do not expect the latest development to disrupt this week’s COVID-19 vaccination appointments.

Earlier on April 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urged a nationwide “pause” of the J&J vaccine, following reports that the shot is associated with increased risks of blood clots in some patients. Federal officials say they want time to review the safety of the J&J vaccine, but they noted that the blood clots are a microscopic percentage of the 7 million doses so far administered. This point was reiterated by Persichilli and J&J executives.

“The adverse reactions … appear to be very rare,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at a morning press conference in Paramus, noting that none of these symptoms have arisen in the roughly 235,000 New Jerseyans who got the J&J vaccine. “No one who has received this vaccine should panic or worry.”

But, he continued, “a pause for further investigation is a precautionary and smart step” that will serve to “ensure confidence” in the vaccine.

“We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine,” reads a J&J statement. “We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to health care professionals and the public.”

Four New Jersey hospitals issued statements or responded via email saying they are pausing use: University Hospital in Newark; Atlantic Health System based in Morristown, which owns and operates several hospitals across North Jersey; Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck and Valley Health System based in Ridgewood.

University Hospital in Newark.
University Hospital in Newark. – UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL

An advisory meeting with the Center for Disease Control is scheduled for April 14 to discuss how public health officials should move forward with the J&J vaccine.

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.

But Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, assured that the announcement “will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan,” as the J&J doses make up just 5% of the shots in people’s arms.

State health officials were expecting J&J vaccines to make up 1 million of the 8.5 million doses expected by the end of June, the rest being the two-shot versions from Pfizer and Moderna.

Murphy assured on April 13 that the state would still be able to reach its goal of fully vaccinating 4.7 million adults by the end of June, despite the pause on J&J vaccines.

“The department will await further guidance from the federal government. The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to discuss these adverse events and make recommendations to the CDC on how to proceed,” Persichilli continued.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:09 p.m. EST on April 13, 2021, to include remarks from representatives from the Burlington and Hudson Counties vaccination mega-sites and Gov. Phil Murphy, and to update the list of hospitals in N.J. pausing use of the vaccine to include Holy Name Medical Center and Valley Health System.