COVID-19 vaccine

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Oregon health officials announced Tuesday plans to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine upon the recommendation of federal officials.

The move comes out of an “abundance of caution” after a very small number of individuals receiving the vaccine reported a type of severe blood clot after receiving a dose of the vaccine.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we followed the recommendation and asked all vaccine providers in Oregon to pause administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak, a senior health advisor with the Oregon Health Authority Tuesday.

Cieslak said the pause could last just a few days as federal health officials review data about the vaccine’s effects and are set to meet Wednesday.

One key question, Cieslak said, will be if the vaccine itself even caused the reaction, since the reporting system only determines correlations between vaccines and symptoms, but doesn’t determine if the vaccines affirmatively caused the symptoms.

“This system, this Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System does not tell us whether the side effect was caused by the vaccine — or whether the adverse event was caused by the vaccine. It just says, ‘hey, here’s something interesting look at,’” Cieslak said.

The blood clots appeared in six individuals, just a fraction of the 6.8 million who’ve received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Cieslak said. None of the instances were in Oregon, and each occurred within one to three weeks of getting the shot.

“We’re recommending that anyone who has already been vaccinated be on the lookout for symptoms for 21 days after vaccination. Anyone past this timeframe is probably OK,” Cieslak said.

Potential symptoms to be on the lookout for include severe headaches, leg pain, shortness of breath and abdominal pain. Anyone with the symptoms should see their healthcare provider or seek emergency care, Cieslak said.

Those who were scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the coming days will either receive a dose of a different vaccine or be asked to reschedule their appointment, depending on their providers’ vaccine supply, Cieslak said.

“We continue to believe that the existing COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and urge everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated,” Cieslak said.

Cieslak said the pause isn’t changing the state’s plan to make all adults eligible for a vaccine dose April 19. In all, about 85,000 of the 2.3 million vaccine doses in Oregon were Johnson & Johnson doses, according to OHA data.

And while Cieslak said the pause in administration could cause some to be more hesitant about getting a dose, he added that the process is intended to increase confidence in approved vaccines.

“These are extraordinary systems in place to find very rare side effects from vaccines, and they were in place and found this one-in-a-million kind of side effect that bears looking into,” Cieslak said.

That’s because vaccines are often held to a higher standard than other medicines, since vaccines are typically administered to people who don’t yet have a disease, Cieslak said.

“These adverse events — that we don’t know if they’re side effects to the vaccine yet or not — are not being seen as commonly as you would see side effects from other medications,” Cieslak said. “But by the same token, they’ve very serious and we don’t want to be causing serious reactions if we can help it.”

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