BISBEE — Cochise Health and Social Services has paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine out of an abundance of caution following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Drug Administration.
Tuesday, the CDC announced a pause of the Janssen vaccine due to six cases out of 6.8 million in which people receiving the vaccine had severe blood clotting. The CDC and FDA are reviewing the data on a special type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in combination with low levels of blood platelets.
“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,” according to the CDC media release.
In an interview, Alicia Thompson, CHSS director, said though the reactions are rare, she wanted to follow the recommendations and pause the use of the Janssen vaccine until the CDC and FDA completed their investigations.
The CDC planned to convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Wednesday to further review the cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review the committee’s analysis as it also investigates the cases.
The CDC stated, “Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution. This is important, in part, to ensure that the health care 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.”
Thompson said, “This is not a recall or removal of the Janssen vaccine from the community. Both FDA and CDC will hopefully make a decision in the coming days. We will pause use of the Janssen vaccine until these agencies make a final determination on the safety and use of it.”
The news will add to the reluctance of some people to get the vaccination even though the Moderna two-shot vaccine, which has been the major vaccine used in the county, is proving to be safe and effective, she added.
“It’s one of the ongoing challenges we face,” she continued. “We have the vaccine, but now we don’t have people signing up for the shots.”
In a work session April 9, Thompson told Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Borer just 34.9 percent of residents, a total of 28,720 people, have been fully vaccinated out of the 125,922 who live in Cochise County. For the 65 and older group, the most at risk group, just less than 65 percent have received vaccinations.
“We need the percentage to be much higher to reach herd immunity. This past week we saw a sharp decrease in demand for vaccines,” she said. “Vaccine hesitancy is increasingly impacting our points of dispensing.”
It also means the 5,200 doses of Moderna and 200 Janssen vaccines the county has been requesting each week may decline so vaccine is not wasted.
Martha Montoya, county epidemiologist, said cases continue to decline in the county with 160 new cases over the past two weeks, an average of 11 a day. About 17,722 people have had COVID–19 since the beginning of the pandemic. The 20 to 44 age group has the most positive cases. Those 65 and older are second and the 5 to 19 group is third.
Thompson said it was necessary to continue wearing masks in public because people can be asymptomatic and not know they are carrying the virus. Family gatherings can spread the virus if members have not been vaccinated.
Montoya emphasized Gov. Doug Ducey’s recent executive order on the end of mask mandates did not include public and private schools which opened to in-person learning March 15. Students and faculty are required to wear masks and maintain a social distance of three feet. Hand washing and the sanitization of surfaces must be continued.
Four schools in Sierra Vista are seeing an uptick with a few positive cases.
“We’re not sure where the transmission is occurring,” Montoya said. “But, it’s not a huge increase.”
It is also not enough cases to close the schools. If more positive cases are discovered, Arizona Department of Health Services could close a school to in-person learning and students would have to return to online classes for two weeks, she said.
The good news, she said, is that Cochise County’s transmission levels have dropped from substantial to moderate according to ADHS.
To find out more on the COVID-19 virus, additional information on the county’s response and about registering for vaccinations, visit the website: https://covid-cochisehealth.hub.arcgis.com/.