The pause on distributing Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, announced Tuesday following reports of rare blood clots forming in a small group of vaccinated women, throws a wrench into plans of hundreds of thousands of Americans who were scheduled to be inoculated with the one-dose shot.
State and local health departments scrambled to pull the J&J vaccine from distribution in the hours following the announcement, issued jointly on Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State and local officials got little if any notice that the guidance was coming, and even White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said he was only made aware of it hours before it went public.
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“I wish that we had more time to get everyone prepared and that this could go even more smoothly,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock told reporters, describing the blood clots she and her colleagues are investigating as “extremely rare” but worthy of a closer inspection “out of an abundance of caution.”
If you were already scheduled to get a J&J vaccine, you’ll likely need to reschedule and prepare to receive one of the two-dose vaccines authorized for use in the U.S from Pfizer or Moderna. The FDA and CDC say they won’t stop health care professionals from administering a J&J vaccine to a patient after talking through the risks and unknowns. But many state and local health departments have for now effectively withdrawn J&J’s vaccine from circulation.
“Our partners will be working to reschedule people who have the J&J vaccine appointments in the days ahead,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, warning that the rescheduling efforts “may be a bit bumpy.”
Same appointment, different vaccine?
On Tuesday, some mass vaccination sites honored previously scheduled J&J appointments but distributed either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccines instead. New York honored previously scheduled J&J appointments at mass vaccination sites, and several county health departments in states like Virginia, New Jersey and California did the same.
But in many other states, you’ll need to reschedule if you were on the books for a J&J shot — and it may take a few days until you’re able to finalize an appointment. Federal officials say they have directed state and local health departments to reach out to those affected. But some health departments say it’s too soon to tell exactly how they’ll be impacted, because they don’t know how long the J&J “pause” will last. A press release from officials in Arlington County, Virginia, suggested more appointments may need to be rescheduled in the coming days “depending on whether the county receives additional doses of other vaccines or learns more about the status of the J&J vaccine.”
Some states, like Connecticut, have asked vaccine providers to delay J&J-specific clinics if they don’t have Pfizer or Moderna vaccines on hand. If you were registered to attend one of these clinics, your vaccination may be delayed until the J&J shot is put back into circulation, or you may need to make a new appointment. Reach out to your health department or vaccine provider to review your options, including getting a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine appointment at another clinic.
What about retail pharmacies?
If you were scheduled to get a J&J vaccine through a retail pharmacy like Walgreens or CVS, someone should contact you about rescheduling. Walgreens said in a statement that it’s “reaching out to patients with scheduled appointments and rescheduling vaccinations from other manufacturers, as supply allows.”
CVS is emailing all customers who were scheduled to get a J&J vaccine, a spokesperson said by email, “to inform them that their appointment is being canceled.” CVS “will follow up with affected customers to reschedule their appointments as soon as possible,” according to Matt Blanchette, a retail communications manager at CVS. Publix Pharmacy is directing affected customers to its vaccine registration portal to schedule a new appointment for a Moderna vaccine, if supply is available in their area.
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The J&J vaccine’s suspension is the latest logistical hurdle for a U.S. vaccination effort that started slowly but had ramped up in March and early April. In recent days, the U.S. has been vaccinating more than 3 million people a day. But appointments are still difficult to schedule in many areas, even as most states have expanded eligibility to all people age 16 and older.
The White House says the U.S. should have enough Pfizer and Moderna shots to make up for the J&J pause. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, was noncommittal when asked whether he expected a resumption to the J&J vaccine’s distribution. “Often, when you see things like this, you pause and come back,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “Whether or not that happens right now, I can’t guarantee it.”
Andrew Soergel joined AARP as a writer in 2020. He was previously a senior economics writer at U.S. News & World Report. Awarded the 2018–19 Economics of Aging and Work fellowship through the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Soergel was also selected as a 2017 aging-issues fellow by the National Press Foundation.