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McLean County Switches Vaccines After Johnson & Johnson 'Pause'

COVID vaccine sitting on table
Mary Altaffer
In this Thursday, April 8, 2021 file photo, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table.

The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) is suspending use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine after federal regulators recommended the vaccine be shelved because of rare reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.The department said it canceled a vaccination clinic scheduled for today at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Illinois State University officials said Tuesday the weekly clinic the health department hosts on Thursday will switch to the Pfizer vaccine, which requires a second dose.

The Pritzker administration also said it would follow the federal guidance against using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

MCHD public affairs coordinator Marianne Manko said the health department received a “very small amount of the vaccine” prior to this week. The one-dose J&J shot was used primarily for targeted populations that health officials consider harder to reach, including college students and rural residents.

The county and Illinois National Guard recently brought the COVID vaccines to the McLean County Jail, where inmates and staff were offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Manko said the county has administered about 3,500 J&J doses. According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), that’s less than 4% of the county’s distribution.

Vaccine hesitancy

The chief medical officer at Carle BroMenn and Carle Eureka hospitals said he's concerned the federal government's recommendation to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine will scare away more people from getting vaccinated.

 James Nevin
Credit Advocate Health Care
Jim Nevin

Dr. Jim Nevin said it's still best to study these rare instances of blood clots, but noted the six cases out of 6.8 million doses represents a 0.0000008 likelihood of it occuring.

“It’s extremely low and I’m concerned the public will become afraid to get the vaccine and they really shouldn’t be,” Nevin said.

The chief medical officer at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, Dr. Paul Pedersen, said he doesn't believe the temporary removal of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines should hurt COVID vaccination efforts.

Pedersen said there's no reason to worry about getting either of the two-dose vaccines.

“I think the vaccine hesitancy about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is certainly there, but not about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,” Pedersen said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends anyone who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be aware of symptoms that include severe headache, stomach pain, leg swelling or shortness of breath within the first three weeks of getting the vaccine.

Paul Pedersen portrait
Credit OSF Healthcare
Paul Pedersen

The six instances of blood clots happened in women ages 18 to 48. Each occured within six to 13 days of vaccination.

Pedersen noted the type of blood clot, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), is most common among women under age 50.

“It’s occurring actually with less frequency than in the general population, but it’s occurring in the context of having gotten a vaccine within the past two weeks,” Pedersen said. “I’m sure that is where the concern is being raised."

Nevin said CVST occurs among .5 to 1% of stroke victims.

“It has a 3-to-1 instance of greater affecting women than women in the younger age group because of hormones and birth control pills,” Nevin said. “It’s not an unknown entity.”

Nevin said health experts simply need more time now to determine how much the Johnson & Johnson vaccines may be linked to CVST.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.