Health officials pause J&J vaccinations at Georgia site after 8 adverse reactions

On Friday, Georgia became the latest state to pause use of the one-shot vaccine at some sites in response to adverse reactions. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)
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Eric Stirgus The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)

ATLANTA — Eight people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Cumming Fairgrounds on Wednesday experienced adverse reactions, prompting the Georgia Department of Public Health officials Friday to announce that they have paused distribution of the vaccine there.

One person was evaluated at a hospital and released, while the others were monitored at the site and sent home, DPH officials said in a news release. The department did not detail the kinds of reactions they had.

Georgia is the latest state to pause use of the one-shot vaccine at some sites in response to adverse reactions. In recent days, public health officials in Colorado and North Carolina temporarily closed some locations after a few people had reactions ranging from dizziness to nausea. Iowa also reported adverse reactions of some people who received the J&J vaccine at some locations.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is evaluating the incidents in all four states, but health authorities in the other states have said they found no cause for concern.

CDC data shows that about 5 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered nationwide, but only 41 complaints about adverse effects have been reported to the vaccine adverse effect reporting system as of April 2. Most complaints to the CDC database are voluntary, which means they may contain incomplete information, agency officials note on the website.

DPH said that there were 425 J&J vaccines administered at the Cumming site on Wednesday, and the agency said it previously had seen no similar adverse reactions to the vaccine.

To date, about 100,000 J&J doses have been administered in Georgia, DPH officials said Friday. There are about 280 sites in Georgia allocated doses of the vaccine, according to one database.

“There is no reason to believe there is anything wrong with the vaccine itself, and other individuals who have received the J&J vaccine should not be concerned,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. “We are looking into what happened and what may have caused the reactions, including the conditions at the fairgrounds such as heat and the ability to keep the site cool.”

Dr. Walt Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center, said state officials are likely exploring several options to determine if Wednesday’s problem was a coincidence or related to an issue such as whether the vaccine was properly stored beforehand or if those vaccinated were properly screened to determine if had pre-existing conditions that would result in an adverse reaction.

“I think it’s of interest the state of Georgia is focusing on that one clinic,” he said. “I would think that if they were really concerned about a more generic problem, they would be pausing throughout the state.”

The Cumming site remains open and is administering the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, DPH said.

The J&J vaccine was authorized for emergency use in late February, about two months after the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were authorized. It is the only one-shot vaccine, making it a popular option for people who don’t want to return for a second shot.

At every vaccination site, people are asked to wait for at least 15 minutes after getting a shot so that they can be monitored for any reaction. The sites also are required to have medical supplies on hand should anyone suffer a more serious reaction.

The temporary halts to vaccination, and a significant drop in supplies of the J&J vaccine, may be stumbling blocks in the race to protect more Americans from COVID-19.

CDC officials said Friday allocations of the vaccine will plunge by more than 80% next week as J&J’s manufacturing partner in Baltimore awaits authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to resume production. Johnson & Johnson had to discard 15 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine last month at its Baltimore facility because the batch did not meet quality standards.

Johnson & Johnson is installing a new senior leadership team to oversee all aspects of production and manufacturing at the facility, federal officials told reporters Friday.

President Joe Biden has moved up the timeline to increase vaccine eligibility for all U.S. adults to April 19 as federal officials worry about a surge in positive cases. Federal officials said Friday there’s been a 7% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations nationwide during the most recent seven-day stretch.

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