Johnson & Johnson vaccine 'pause' will be replaced with Moderna, Pfizer vaccines

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Thursday, April 15, 2021
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Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will fill the gaps as Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been put on pause, said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Johnson & Johnson vaccine continues to be put on hold after a CDC panel said it needs more time to look into claims of dangerous blood clots.

The United Center mass vaccination site, where appointments go quickly, was scheduled to administer the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson site Monday, but plans changed after the FDA and CDC put the vaccine on pause for several days. On Thursday, the city announced the United Center allocation will switch to Pfizer.

"Everybody who has an appointment from Monday on at the United Center can keep that appointment. You do not need to do a thing. You will just receive Pfizer instead of Johnson & Johnson," said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner.

Dr. Arwady said second dose appointments will be scheduled. The loss of Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been a set back, but 50,000 extra Moderna and Pfizer doses from the state are helping fill the gaps, Arwady added. Most providers the city supplies were not using Johnson & Johnson, and the city is working on trying to get supply to those who were using the vaccine, Dr. Arwady said.

"There were couple of the kind of the employer-based sites that we still have on hold while we're still waiting on some more vaccines to come in next week," Dr. Arwady said.

The city also put a hold on the plan to convert some CTA buses into mobile vaccination sites, where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would work best.

The CDC announced it will be several days before a decision is made on lifting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause while federal regulators continue to investigate rare but potentially deadly blood clots found in a very small number of cases. The White House fully supports the pause and promised supply will not be affected.

"We are over prepared and over supplied. We remain confident in that," said Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary.

The city is confident that with or without Johnson & Johnson vaccines, the vaccinations rates will increase dramatically at the end of April and May. Currently, 47% of Chicago adults over the age of 18 have gotten the first dose and 27% are fully vaccinated. Vaccinations will open to anyone 16 and above Monday.

As COVID hospitalizations continue to climb in Illinois, getting more people vaccinated is urgent. That's why some medical ethicists are calling the FDA and CDC's move to put the Johnson and Johnson vaccine on pause a mistake.

"Taking the opportunity to be vaccinated away from patients when we are still in the middle of a pandemic and thousands of people are being hospitalized and dying every day is not right from a medical ethical perspective," said Dr. William Parker, UChicago Medicine Medical Ethicist.

WATCH | What do Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients need to know?

Parker says the risk of the virus outweighs the risk of very rare, adverse side effects. Out of 6.8 million doses administered in the U.S, federal regulators are investigating if the J & J vaccine caused a rare but potentially deadly blood clot found in six women ages 18-48. The clots developed within two weeks of getting the shot.

"We know if the risk is real it's incredibly small and people can factor that in a make their own decision," Parker said.

Parker said while he fully supports the FDA and CDC investigation into the vaccine, he says the decision to take the single-dose shot should be up to patients and their doctors. But state and Illinois' local health departments have halted the vaccine until federal regulators make a decision, though the "pause" is a recommendation, not a mandate.

RELATED | US weighs next steps for Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine amid reports of rare blood clots

WATCH | What the Johnson & Johnson 'pause' means

To help the city of Chicago make up for the loss, Pritzker is reallocating 50,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer from the state supply to the city. The state said it is not stockpiling vaccine, it is only shifting doses to Chicago from counties that don't need so much vaccine.

The Biden administration promises there is enough Moderna and Pfizer to make up for the J & J loss, but, University of Chicago Medical Ethicist Dr. William Parker said time is ticking as the virus continues to surge in some states.

While Parker supports an investigation into the six cases, he said it can continue while getting J & J shots in arms.

"We know if the risk is real, it's incredibly small and people can factor that in and make the decision on their own," Parker said.

The FDA and CDC are expected to make a decision about pausing or unpausing the J & J vaccine in a few days.