Officials: No known cases of serious side effects from J&J in Illinois or suburbs
Suspending the use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine while U.S. authorities examine six cases of blood clots in people who received the shots should not impinge on efforts to inoculate Illinoisans amid a spike in infections, state officials said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control called for a pause in the use of J&J's vaccine Tuesday, noting that out of more than 6.8 million doses administered, six cases of a "rare and severe type of blood clot" had occurred in women ages 18 to 48 within six to 13 days after receiving shots.
Of the total 7.3 million doses of three different vaccines administered to Illinoisans, about 4% or 290,615 were from Johnson & Johnson, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported. Among the recipients was Gov. J.B. Pritkzer.
Following the CDC's recommendation, Illinois, suburban counties and key pharmacies like Walgreens suspended use of the J&J one-dose shot. Mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics scheduled in Aurora and Elgin for Tuesday were canceled, affecting hundreds.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said Tuesday she "was not aware of any local cases in Chicago or Illinois" of blood clot issues.
Suburban Cook, DuPage, Lake and Will health department officials confirmed there were no serious adverse effects from Johnson & Johnson shots in their jurisdictions.
"Only a small amount of J & J has been received and used for closed clinics," Will County's Steve Brandy said.
Cook County Health officials said the J&J shots account for about 27,000 doses, or 5%, of the total vaccines to date.
Because the majority of shots thus far in Illinois have come from drugmakers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the vaccination push should not be disrupted, IDPH leaders said. The mass clinics will not be closed, they noted.
"The blood clot cases appear to be extremely rare and there are no reported cases associated with either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccines," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said. "I strongly urge people to continue to get vaccinated."
Brenda Lemus, 32, of Streamwood, who received a J&J shot Thursday, said "she did feel anxious just now to think that I might be developing any of the side effects. I will follow up with my doctor if I notice any symptoms.
"I decided to get the J&J because that's what was offered to me and, well, if it was just one shot rather than two, I thought it was the better choice at the time for me," Lemus said. "But ... I feel fine. I only had a sore arm for two days and that was it."
One concern arising from Tuesday's surprise is whether the Johnson & Johnson issue will increase vaccine hesitancy even as the state combats an upward trend of COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases. Of the six women with blood clotting, one died and another was in critical condition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported.
"I do think that worldwide and also locally and within the U.S. that this will add a little bit of fuel to anti-vaxxers' sentiments, as well as people on the fence about things," said Dr. Michael Bauer, medical director at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. "The message we have to get out is, the system works. That's why we monitor these things."
State and suburban leaders have pushed to vaccinate Black and Hispanic communities because of high rates of COVID-19 infections and deaths combined with insufficient access to health care and some vaccine skepticism.
In the Aurora area, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been well-received and the J & J vaccine was introduced only recently, said Theodia Gillespie, president of the Quad County Urban League. "Most residents are excited to be vaccinated so they can get back to some form of normalcy."
Comorbidities in the Black community such as heart disease and respiratory issues are causing tragic outcomes from COVID-19 that should hopefully outweigh concerns, Gillespie said. "Having the protection of the vaccine will help us fight off this virus."
A number of cars pulled up to an Elgin COVID-19 mass vaccination site Tuesday morning at the Eastside Recreation Center only to turn away. The event was canceled by the Kane County Health Department, but organizers expect to reopen Wednesday using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
On April 8, Rich Sawyer of South Elgin received a Johnson & Johnson shot at the Eastside site.
"I feel fine," Sawyer said. "The only issue I had was a tiny sore throat that evening. Everything's been fine since."
When he got his vaccination, "I was really excited to get it and move on. I was trying to get an appointment forever. When one came up, I jumped on it."
Asked about the national pause of J&J, Sawyer said he was "not concerned. It's such a small number out of all the people that were vaccinated, you can't judge off of that."
The CDC is advising anyone who has taken the J&J vaccine and who experiences severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath up to three weeks after vaccination should contact a doctor or health care provider.
The symptoms are similar to a stroke, Bauer explained.
"For people who got the vaccine more than a month ago, the risk to them is very low at this time," CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said. "For people who recently got the vaccine within the last couple of weeks, they should be aware to look for any symptoms."
Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program, said "this is an event that's literally less than one in a million, something that happens less than getting struck by lightning."
Landon said that while the clots are unusual, who it is happening to is not.
"Premenopausal women are at a higher risk of blood clots because of hormones and particularly those on birth control," she said. "There's a relationship between estrogen and blood clots, so there's a biologically plausible reason for this connection."
The decision to pause the vaccine's use is necessary, but Landon expects the vaccine will back in use with guidance on who should receive it.
The IDPH announced the J& J allocation this week was 17,000 doses out of an expected 551,590 from the federal government.
"The J&J vaccine is still a very small part of the total vaccine allocation to the state," partly because of earlier J&J manufacturing problems, said Northwestern University logistics expert Hani Mahmassani.
"So the immediate impact is limited and can be absorbed by the large quantities of Pfizer and Moderna that the state has been slow to roll out. However, come May we may not be able to sustain the pace unless J&J is cleared again as safe."
Local vaccination status
Some suburban counties had to quickly pivot on vaccination appointments without J&J shots.
• In Cook County, "individuals with appointments for J&J this week will receive Moderna or Pfizer," a Cook County Health official said. "Those who do not wish to receive the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine should call (833) 308-1988 to cancel or reschedule their appointment."
• In Kane County, "those who were scheduled for a vaccination appointment (April 13) in Aurora and Elgin will be rescheduled for the Pfizer first dose next Tuesday, April 20. Those who wish to schedule sooner can go to KaneVax.org for other appointments," the health department said.
• In Lake County, the health department will be using its supplies of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for scheduled inoculations and it's not anticipated any appointments will need to be canceled, officials said.
• In Will County, a spokesman said the J&J suspension "does not in any way affect our regular clinics, who are leaning on Pfizer and Moderna."
Chicago's health department also suspended the J&J vaccine.
• Daily Herald reporters Jake Griffin and Rick West contributed to this report.