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Somerset County & Montgomery Health Departments Suspend J&J Vaccinations

By Barbara A. Preston l April 13, 2021

"Out of an abundance of caution," Somerset County will shift from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to the Moderna vaccine in its senior clinics, and will pause current homebound efforts, according to a statement issued on Tuesday, April 13.

The Montgomery Township Health Department, which recently received a special state allotment of 100 J&J vaccines, administered 95 to Montgomery and Rocky Hill residents over the last two weeks, according to Health Department Director Stephanie D. Carey. The remaining five doses are "on ice" as the CDC evaluates a small cluster of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine.

A popup clinic for vulnerable (transportation limited) seniors at the Otto Kaufmann Community Center in Skillman, sponsored by the Montgomery Health Department. Health department professionals administered 95 doses of the J&J one-shot vaccine visiting the homes of homebound seniors. In addition, pop-up clinics were organized at the community center and at the affordable senior housing complex at McKinley Court.

Somerset County and Montgomery officials are following guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Food and Drug Administration, after a recent discovery regarding “extremely rare” reactions.

The CDC and the FDA administrations are "recommending" a pause in the the use of the J&J one-shot COVID vaccine due to an “extremely rare” complication. Based on this guidance, the Somerset County and Montgomery/Rocky Hill health departments are suspending its use for all populations.

"It merits looking into, but it does not merit freaking out," Montgomery Health Director Carey said in a telephone interview with The Montgomery News on Tuesday morning. "The important thing to remember is that (the clotting) side effect is extraordinarily rare. You are far more likely to die of coronavirus than of this."

"All medication has side effects," Carey said. "I do not have an elevated concern. We are very careful to make sure all adverse impacts are monitored and reported. This is an example of the robust system we have in place. Unfortunately, the anti-vax movement is going to glom on to this."

"We have a robust vaccine monitoring system. That is why we are discovering these rare side effect events. Giving COVID to someone you love is far riskier than getting the vaccine."

— Montgomery Health Dept Director Stephanie D. Carey

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J/Janssen vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to a CDC media statement issued on Tuesday, April 13. CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported US cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia).

All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination. Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered. Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.

Namitha Reddy, MD, director of the Somerset County Department of Health, says: “Somerset County has not seen any adverse reactions to the J&J vaccine at our clinics, but we will be suspending use of the vaccine immediately out of an abundance of caution."

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“We look forward to the CDC and FDA’s revised guidance, but until the J&J vaccine is again approved we will continue to quickly administer every dose of Moderna or other vaccine allocated from the state to the residents of Somerset County,” Reddy said.

Somerset County will continue its effort to vaccinate residents on its waiting list by shifting Moderna allocations to senior and underserved “closed POD” clinics, but will be suspending the homebound vaccination program until the CDC and FDA complete their review.

Somerset County will continue to add residents to its homebound and senior citizen waiting lists in anticipation of future allocations. To add someone to these lists, please call the county's COVID Hotline at 908.231.7155 or use the web form.

If you have had an adverse reaction to the J&J one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, please report it.

People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider. Health care providers are asked to report adverse events to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

People who got the J&J vaccine from the Montgomery Health Department's pop-up clinic, who experience an allergic reaction or adverse side effect, should do the following:

  • If your body does not feel right, seek medial attention. Call your doctor or dial 911 in the case of an emergency.

  • Call the Montgomery Health Department at (908) 359-8211.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) plans to meet on Wednesday, April 14, to further review these cases and to assess their potential significance. Until an analysis process is complete, the CDC recommends a pause in the use of this vaccine "out of an abundance of caution."

"This is important, in part, to ensure that the healthcare-provider-community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot," according to the CDC statement.

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