The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is pausing the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine amid a federal review of side effects involving a rare and severe type of blood clot.
DHS made the announcement Tuesday morning after the CDC and FDA released details of the adverse side effects reported. The CDC said there were six cases reported of women of rare and severe blood clots days and weeks after receiving the J & J shot.
Officials were clear that the events were extremely rare, and so far had only presented in patients that suffered from thrombocytopenia — low levels of blood platelets — and those who had histories of blood clotting issues.
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“We are pausing administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of an abundance of caution. At this time, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “Vaccine providers should not administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at this time, and should hold on to the vaccine until federal review has been completed.”
DHS says patients who received the Johnson & Johnson should monitor for severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath for a few weeks after their vaccination.
“There is still a lot to learn about how the vaccine might cause the problems that occurred in the six patients, which included blood clots around the brain and low platelets, but they do appear to be very rare,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer for DHS. “For residents who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, be in contact with your health care provider if you have a severe headache or new vision problems during the first two weeks after receiving the vaccine.”
Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said the review would take a matter of days but could extend longer depending on "what we learn."
“So far, there have been no reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis with low platelets in anyone who has received one of the mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines,” said Dr. Westergaard. “The FDA, CDC, and DHS continue to recommend the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at this time, while the adverse events related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine continue to be investigated.”
Nichole Williams said she got her Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Saturday after searching for it.
"I thought, you know what, I'm just going to see if I can’t find a J&J shot and just get this over with," Williams said.
She said she got the chills that night and didn't feel well Sunday, but was able to work. On Monday she said she felt fine. Then on Tuesday she heard the news.
"I was nervous, but then again all the comments list 7 million doses and six people," Williams said.
Fernando Moreno said he got the Johnson & Johnson shot a few weeks ago, and he says he's worried this news will make people who were on the fence even more hesitant about getting vaccinated.
"I think it’s worth the risk," Moreno said. "It’s easy for me to say that now that I've taken it and I'm fine, but I would take my kids to the church tomorrow and say take it."
More than 160,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered statewide, compared to the millions of Pfizer and Moderna doses. The Milwaukee Health Department says it has administered 1,865 Johnson & Johnson doses.