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Alaska pauses administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine after federal recommendation

Alaska announced Tuesday it was pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine while...
Alaska announced Tuesday it was pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine while reports of blood clots are investigated.(AP)
Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 1:36 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 4:09 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has asked vaccine providers to place a statewide halt on administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after reports of a rare blood clot affecting six people.

Following the Tuesday morning recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration, Alaska followed suit by canceling all upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccine appointments within the state, according to the department’s press release.

“This is how our safety checks work. DHSS is notifying vaccine providers via email and phone calls this morning and is also providing information to all health care providers,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, Alaska’s state epidemiologist, in the release. “Alaskans should also know this appears to be a very rare event, with six cases out of 6.8 million doses of J&J vaccine administered to date.”

The pause in distribution came as a result of the six reported U.S. cases of a rare, severe type of blood clot in women, 18-48 years old, who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Symptoms in these patients began six to 13 days after vaccination.

None of the six cases occurred in Alaska.

The type of blood clot is called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which prevents blood from draining out of the brain and could potentially form a hemorrhage.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is reviewing the six cases. The committee will meet Wednesday to review relevant data.

Meanwhile, administration of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will continue in both Alaska and the country. Kelsey Pistotnik with the Alaska Immunization Program said during a Tuesday press conference that Alaskans who signed up to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could consider switching to either Pfizer or Moderna, which the state has in abundance.

“These appointments were made very specifically for that product so I think it’s going to be something we work through with our providers and also contacting patients to see what they want,” she said. “We are doing everything on our end to make sure that vaccine is available, the other two products, so if clinics want to continue and patients do want to receive a different product, that we are making that available.”

As of April 12, DHSS reported 11,178 of the allocated 35,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses have been administered in Alaska. The release said the vaccine was sent to numerous Alaska sites, including pharmacies, outpatient clinics, federally qualified health centers and local public health authorities.

The department advises anyone who has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination to contact their health care provider or seek medical care.

“We take every vaccine adverse event seriously,” McLaughlin said in the release. “This pause is an important part of the process that ensures the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.”

Anyone who was scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Alaska this week should be aware that their appointment will be canceled or postponed. Those who need help rescheduling their appointment to receive one of the mRNA vaccines, Pfizer or Moderna, can call the Alaska Vaccine Helpline at 1-907-646-3322 or toll-free at 1-833-482-9546.

For more information on vaccines in Alaska, visit dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/vaccine.aspx.

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