RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Health provided an update on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after Virginia paused all J&J vaccinations while investigating reports of rare blood clots. The state vaccine coordinator says the CDC is investigating a Virginia woman’s death that may have been caused by an adverse vaccine reaction.
Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula led a meeting on Tuesday to provide further updates on J&J administration and how that will impact Virginia’s progress with Phase 2.
There are currently six cases of the J&J blood-clotting issues nationally.
After being asked Tuesday morning about potential reports of a woman in Virginia being one of those who died due to issues from the J&J vaccine, Avula said the VDH was waiting on the CDC to confirm the information. The CDC confirmed with VDH on Tuesday afternoon that they were investigating the death of a Virginia woman.
Avula says this pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is happening so officials can collect more information.
Data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System shows that a 45-year-old woman died following an adverse event possibly related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to the data, she was vaccinated on March 6 and died on March 18.
The diagnosis states that one week after the vaccine she developed a “gradually worsening headache.” By March 17 she was taken to the hospital with worsening symptoms. She then experienced a brain hemorrhage and herniation.
Avula emphasized how rare these cases are, stating the pause was a recommendation and not a mandate.
“I think a big part of the reason the federal government took this step is that six cases in 6 million is a rare number, but they did it because everyone recognizes how important public trust is in the government,” Avula said. “They were conservative to pause administration to maintain public trust.”
The investigation is in place to see if the cases are specifically tied to the vaccination. Avula said this is so rare that it requires national surveillance infrastructure to identify.
“We need to clearly state that this is specific to Johnson & Johnson,” Avula said. “We have not seen this pattern with Moderna and Pfizer. They work on a different platform. J&J uses a shell of another common cold virus, so some of what we have seen globally is because of similar patterns.”
Avula said 184,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses have been administered in Virginia. About 72,000 J&J doses were set to be administered this week but will now no longer be used due to the investigation. He said Northern Virginia is currently the only part of the state seeing demand higher than supply.
The current pause may take “days to weeks.” Avula still expects that the end of May will be a reasonable goal for getting the vaccine to those who want it – 20%-25% of the current vaccinations in the state were going to be J&J.
Most of the state has opened vaccination opportunities up to all adults with a few more continuing to work through Phase 1.
“I think the vast majority of the state has already done that [entered phase two],” Avula said. “We have four or five districts planning on doing that this week. I don’t think J&J will impact the ability to invite Phase one participants to get vaccinated.”