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Michigan pauses Johnson & Johnson vaccine after federal recommendation

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Oakland County Health Dept.

Michigan paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine today after federal health officials recommended doing so Tuesday morning.

As of Monday, 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control is reviewing six cases where people got a rare and serious blood clot within two weeks of being vaccinated. 

The CDC says treatment of this type of blood clot is different from what might typically be administered and is meeting Wednesday to review more information. The recommendations to pause administration of the vaccine have been made "out of an abundance of caution" the CDC said.

In Michigan, 199,075 doses of the vaccine have been administered statewide. That's 3.8% of all doses. Roughly a third of those doses have been administered in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Kent Counties.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has informed clinics that were using Johnson & Johnson vaccines to temporarily pause administration. The state had received received 17,500 doses this week, according to MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin.

Bobby Leddy, press secretary for Governor Gretchen Whitmer said, "The safety and health of Michiganders will always come first. We will follow the FDA’s guidance to temporarily pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of an abundance of caution, and adapt our vaccine strategy going forward until a further review of the data can be conducted."

The recommendation comes just as the state was beginning to ramp up distribution of the vaccine. COVID-19 has reached yet another peak in Michigan, with 3,918 adults hospitalized with coronavirus. That's just as many as were hospitalized in Michigan's second surge in Novemeber and Decemeber of 2020.

Whitmer has said her strategy to overcome this surge relies on getting as many vaccines in arms as quickly as possible, instead of mandatory lockdowns. That's a strategy the CDC director on Monday advised against.

Pause comes at difficult time

Emily Martin is an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. She says the pause is key for officials to learn more about what caused these rare events and to be able to issue new guidance accordingly, but that it has caused a hiccup in the rollout at a critical time.

“Here in Michigan, it’s really important that we keep vaccinating as quickly as possible because we’ve got such high rates and such widespread COVID happening. And nationally, you can see there’s going to be probably a ripple effect just operationally from doing this [pause]. For communications, we’re going to have probably a few weeks here where we have to have that kind of careful, scientific message about what we know, communicating the uncertainty, and then communicating what we know from the review.”

She says public health officials need to concentrate on what she calls the “averted burden,” by focusing on the number of lives that are being saved by the vaccine.

“That’s an important message that we need to remember and not forget, that as we try to prevent these rare events and take them seriously, we also know [the vaccine] is saving a lot of lives at the same time.”

What's happening at the county level?

So far, officials in Detroit, Berrien County, Grand Traverse County, Ottawa County, and Washtenaw County have said they will immediately halt distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In Detroit, people with already scheduled appointments will be given the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Clinics in Grand Traverse County will shift to using the Pfizer vaccine, while the clinic scheduled for Thursday in Berrien county will use the Moderna vaccine.

In Ottawa County, individuals with appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be contacted by the health department.

The Washtenaw County Health Department says the scheduled vaccine clinic at Pierce Lake Elementary in Chelsea will operate as scheduled on Tuesday and will offer the Pfizer vaccine. The scheduled clinic Tuesday afternoon at the EMU Convocation Center is postponed.

A number of universities, including Oakland University and the University of Michigan, were set to distribute Johnson & Johnson vaccines to students on Tuesday. Those schools say they will use the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead.

Northern Michigan University has canceled clinics to distribute 600 Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week, and says the school will work with local officials to get Moderna vaccines to students instead. Students may have to get their first shot in Marquette and the second in their hometown after the semester ends.

Last updated: Tuesday, April 13 at 3:40 p.m.

Correction: An earlier version of this post quoted an MDHHS official saying the state of Michigan had received 127,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. The official made a typo. The state actually received 17,500 doses.

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