California, Bay Area also 'pause' J&J vaccines because 1 in a million chance of blood clot

Bay Area health departments as well as the California Department of Public Health also took a "pause" on Tuesday in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after the federal government reported it was possible, but highly rare, to get a severe type of blood clot about a week after getting inoculated. 

Pharmacies, including CVS, Walgreens, Safeway and Albertson's, also said they were halting the vaccine process using the one-and-done vaccine. 

California's top epidemiologist, Dr. Erica Pan, said the move was made out of an abundance of caution.

Of over 6.8 million doses administered nationally, there have been six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot with symptoms occurring 6 to 13 days after vaccination. The clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain and occurred together with low platelets, the fragments in blood that normally form clots.

All six cases were in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died, and all of the cases remain under investigation.

Early Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were investigating the unusual clots and that the pause might take several days. 

"I’d like to stress these events appear to be extremely rare. However COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority," acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said at a news conference.

People who were in line to get vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson should definitely not freak out said Dr. John Swartzberg, UC Berkeley public health clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology. 

"Let's put this into perspective," he said. "There's a one-in-a-million chance at getting this. Those are incredible odds. The chances of something happening are just that: One in a million. That's why we have that expression."

That said, Swartzberg said that in his opinion, he feels that federal health authorities are simply being extremely cautious about finding out why the vaccine is making some healthy people sick.  

Pan said the state would move forward with resuming to use J&J only after receiving "further direction from health and safety experts."

As the federal government has said, California does expect a significant impact on the state's vaccination allocations. In California, less than 4% of the vaccine allocation this week is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

In fact, in Napa County, spokeswoman Janet Upton said there was one clinic scheduled for Tuesday using Johnson & Johnson, but the county is now calling the 75 people who had appointments to tell them they were switching to Moderna. 

Contra Costa County officials said in a statement that the J&J vaccine is "a very small part" of its allocations and that the county does not anticipate canceling any appointments. That includes the mass vaccination site at the Oakland Coliseum now run by Contra Costa and Alameda counties. 

However, San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Canepa wasn't taking the pause lightly. 

"The dream of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot-and-done vaccine could prove nightmarish for the state’s goal to fully reopen the economy on June 15," Canepa said in a statement. "This is a huge messaging challenge and we must do all we can to keep the public’s confidence in getting vaccinated overall."

He said he was concerned that J&J setback could lead to more vaccine hesitancy and derail the dream of fully reopening the state’s economy in about two months.

"We need the feds to get more shots in arms, we can’t do it ourselves," he said. 

However, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the vaccine supply "will not be significantly impacted" and that the pause will not affect plans to open vaccination to all eligible teens and adults as scheduled or its broader plan to reopen California’s economy in mid-June.

Newsom and other high-profile California officials publicly received shots of the J&J in an attempt to demonstrate to the public that the vaccine is safe. The J&J vaccine has been promoted as an easy "one and done" shot that is practical for people who do not want to return second shots and those who have difficulty making find second appointments.

The agencies recommend that people who were given the J&J vaccine should contact their doctor is they experience severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks.

J&J said in a statement that it was aware of the reports of blood clots, but that no link to its vaccine had been established. The company also said it would delay the rollout of its vaccine in Europe as a precaution.

Any slowdown in the dissemination of the shots could have broad implications for the global vaccination effort. The J&J vaccine held particular promise for less affluent countries because its single-dose regimen and relatively simple storage requirements would make it easier to use in the developing world.

KTVU's Daniel Radovich and the Associated Press contributed to this report.