Kanter: J&J 'pause' should instill confidence in vaccine safety monitoring program
BATON ROUGE - Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana's state health officer, calls Tuesday's "pause" of administration of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine a "small step back."
"I'm frustrated, a little bit, that we had to take pause, because J&J is proven to be such a popular vaccine, and really easy to use for community events, because it doesn't need to be ultra-cold and it's a single dose," Kanter said. "It's very practical and this is just a small step back."
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended pausing the vaccine's use after six reported cases of rare, but dangerous, blood clots in women. One of the six women died.
In total, 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered nationwide.
Kanter says LDH didn't get advance notice of the move Tuesday morning, but immediately asked providers to stop using the single-shot vaccine, even though no adverse impacts have been reported in Louisiana.
The state has been allocated 142,608 doses of the J&J vaccine over the past six weeks. About 85,000 of those doses have been administered, making up roughly 3.7% of the total doses administered in Louisiana.
The pause comes as Louisiana was already expecting meager shipments of the J&J shot. This week, before the pause, the state received just 8,000 doses.
"Numerically, it's not that big of a deal," Kanter said. "I am concerned with how it gets messaged, and I want people to understand exactly what happened. This is not some big safety issue with all the vaccine out there. It's specific to J&J, which a real minority in the vaccine that we have, and furthermore, it's evidence that the safety system is working the way it's supposed to."
Health officials have been clear that the pause is not about whether the vaccine works, but is to examine whether it directly links to the clots.
"Very rapidly, they're going to look at the case studies, they're going to look at the history of these people, comorbidities," said Dr. Gus Kousoulas, a professor of virology at LSU. "They're going to look at the lots [of vaccine] and make sure that they followed procedure for production and distribution. They're going to look at the entire chain - where these vaccines came from, how they were given, to whom they were given."
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Wednesday to discuss the pause, which officials have said will allow for data-gathering and communication with physicians and providers.
On a call with the White House COVID Response Team Tuesday morning, some governors expressed concern over how much the pause might affect vaccine hesitancy. Kanter says some governors directly questioned whether such a significant change was needed after so few complications.
"The answer given, which I agree with emphatically, is at the end of the day, the federal government told the public that safety would be the number one concern, and the most important thing is to not do anything to violate that trust, that confidence in the program," Kanter said.
When asked how Louisiana would combat possible vaccine hesitancy brought on by the hold on J&J, Kanter said he is just focused on explaining the process underway at the federal level.
"One of the questions people have is, how do I know it's safe? How do I know that someone's monitoring it," Kanter explained. "And to that question, the answer is right here. Six cases in the U.S. was enough for the feds to pick up on that pattern and say 'hit pause.' Just six cases. That tells you that the safety monitoring program is strong, it's robust and functioning exactly the way it should."
Louisiana is expected to receive a slight boost in next week's vaccine shipment, according to CDC data. The state is expected to receive 119,730 first doses, combined of Moderna and Pfizer. No doses of the J&J vaccine were allocated.
As of Thursday evening, most capital area vaccination efforts remained unaffected by the J&J pause.
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