Suffolk officials say no cases of blood clot detected in county due to J&J vaccine as CDC, FDA pause distribution

Distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was paused this week as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration review cases of a severe type of blood clot that was confirmed in six women, causing serious headaches.

Symptoms of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, were found in six women between the ages of 18 and 48, occuring six to 13 days after vaccination, the CDC said Tuesday. As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered in the U.S., according to the CDC, which cautioned that the side effect is still “extremely rare.”

Officials in New York announced Tuesday they would follow the CDC by temporarily pausing distribution. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which represent the large majority, have not been affected.

“The reason they paused the Johnson & Johnson is they want to make sure all health care providers know if a person comes in with these symptoms the normal medication is heparin that they give for a blood clot,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. “That does not work in this situation, so they want to get the word out to all health care providers.”

The CDC says that heparin could be dangerous in this situation and alternative treatments are called for. 

New York residents who had been scheduled to receive the J&J shot at state-run vaccination sites will instead receive the Pfizer or Moderna, the governor said.

“Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare,” said a joint statement from Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, and Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously.”

Suffolk County officials are not aware of any cases of the severe blood clot among approximately 2,000 residents who have received the J&J vaccine so far. 

“We will be closely monitoring the federal review process and use that information to help guide our efforts here in Suffolk County in the days ahead,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, the Suffolk County health commissioner.

The CDC recommends that anyone who received the J&J shot and develops severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks afterward contact a health care provider. The symptoms are different from the mild flu-like symptoms that can occur within a day of a person’s last shot. The J&J vaccine is a single-dose shot, while Pfizer and Moderna require two.

More than 38% of New Yorkers have now received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, according to the latest data published online. Just over one-quarter of the state’s population has now completed their vaccine series. The figures are similar for Suffolk County, where 37.8% have received at least one dose and 23.5% have completed the vaccine series.

Mr. Cuomo announced Tuesday the latest targeted effort to distribute the vaccine with a push for farms and food production facilities. He said the state will coordinate with local health departments and federally qualified health centers to bring pop-up vaccination sites to workers, including migrant workers, at their places of employment. On Monday he announced the state will provide a separate allocation of 35,000 vaccines for college students. Of that total, 21,000 doses will go toward SUNY students and 14,000 to students at private colleges.

“We want to get students vaccinated before the end of the school year,” Mr. Cuomo said. “They’re in colleges. The 18 to 24 population is a population that is growing in positivity.”

Mr. Cuomo also announced updated guidance for graduation ceremonies, which will be allowed with limited attendance based on the size of the venue and whether they are indoors or outdoors. Large-scale ceremonies at outdoor venues with a capacity of 2,500 or more will be limited to 20% capacity. A medium-sized ceremony of 201-500 people at an outdoor venue will be limited to 33% capacity. A small outdoor ceremony of up to 200 people or two attendees per student will be limited to 50% capacity and proof of negative test result or completed immunization is optional.

Local school districts adjusted commencement ceremonies last year. Riverhead, the largest district in the area, held a virtual ceremony and then split the graduating class into multiple gatherings to distribute diplomas. Districts on the North Fork that typically hold indoor ceremonies instead hosted outdoor ceremonies.

The positivity rate for COVID in Suffolk County was reported at 4% on a seven-day average as of April 12. An average of 628 new cases per day were recorded between April 6 and12 and there were a total of 23 fatalities in Suffolk.