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Maryland Pausing Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Administration

The Baltimore Convention Center, one of the state's mass vaccination sites. Both mass vaccination sites in Baltimore City are administering Pfizer.
The Baltimore Convention Center, one of the state's mass vaccination sites. Both mass vaccination sites in Baltimore City are administering Pfizer.

Maryland is pausing use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the advice of the CDC and FDA, after six recipients developed extremely rare blood clots. Nationally, nearly 7 million people have gotten the J&J vaccine, more than 170,000 of them in Maryland.

In a press release, the state Department of Health directed all providers to hold off on the vaccine until receiving further federal guidance.

“Providers should continue to maintain their supplies of Johnson & Johnson vaccines in a manner that prevents wastage,” the department wrote.

Federal health officials said they expect the pause will take several days.

The Baltimore City Health Department issued a statement that the vaccine makes up a minority of its supply and that the pause will not significantly affect operations. The department added that Baltimore’s mobile clinics, which target vulnerable populations, are using Moderna.

The city’s two state-run mass vaccination sites — the M&T Bank Stadium and the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital — are using Pfizer, according to Michael Schwartzberg from the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). UMMS helps manage both mass vaccination sites.

The Baltimore County Health Department also announced that it will hold off using J&J but continue with all vaccine appointments.

Maryland Hospital Association President Bob Atlas told WYPR that out of recent dose allocations to hospitals, 6% are J&J. J&J vaccines have also made up about 7% of all vaccines hospitals have given residents since December.

“It is not the dominant vaccine in use,” Atlas said. “We'll have plenty of vaccine supply for all the people who want to be vaccinated.

Atlas noted that since December, Maryland’s hospitals have administered about a third of the state’s vaccinations.

The pause comes a day after Marylanders 16 and older became eligible at all of the state’s providers, as cases rise and more contagious coronavirus variants spread. Atlas said while hospitalizations have risen recently, they are “plateauing.”

All six blood clot cases developed among women between the ages of 18 and 48 within two weeks after getting the single-dose J&J vaccine. As of Tuesday, one woman has died and another has been hospitalized in critical condition. None of the cases were in Maryland.

Acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said that federal health agencies recommended pausing the vaccine out of an “abundance of caution.”

“I’d like to stress these events appear to be extremely rare,” Woodcock said at a press conference led by the FDA and CDC Tuesday. “However, COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of adverse events following vaccination very seriously.”

Dr. Peter Marks, FDA Director for the Center of Biologics Evaluation and Research, said that the risk of blood clots is even lower for those who’ve received the J&J vaccine more than a month ago. But he said those who’ve gotten the J&J vaccine more recently should keep an eye out for symptoms.

“If you've received the vaccine and develop severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath, you should contact your health care provider and seek medical treatment,” Marks said at Tuesday’s press conference

He went on to say that the blood clot symptoms are distinct from the mild flu-like side effects that people commonly get after the COVID-19 vaccine.

The pause on J&J vaccinations follows concerns about the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine distributed outside the U.S., which has also been linked with rare blood clots.

Marks stressed that blood clots have not shown up among recipients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.