What you need to know about Minnesota's J&J COVID vaccine pause

Following federal guidance, Minnesota pauses use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

A vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y., in March. Federal authorities are investigating blood clots in six women who got the shot. While the side effects appear to be exceedingly rare, state officials say they are pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in an abundance of caution.
Mark Lennihan | AP Photo file

Following the lead of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials are pausing administration of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The FDA and CDC are investigating the exceedingly rare occurrence of blood clots — which have nationwide been found in six women between the ages of 18 and 48 that occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.

Here’s what you need to know about the pause.

The side effects are extremely rare

“This is being done out of an abundance of caution,” Gov. Tim Walz said of the state’s decision to pause the J&J shots Tuesday.

Indeed, the side effects are very rare. More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been given out — and 184,000 Minnesotans have so far gotten it — with no adverse events reported, said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm.

While Malcolm stressed that these events are rare, she said the fact they were identified underscores how well the nationwide reporting system for vaccine adverse reactions to the vaccine is working.

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“We do appreciate the thoroughness of this process,” Malcolm said. “This is the way the process is supposed to work.”

Contact your doctor if you notice any symptoms

If people experience a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of getting the shot, they should contact their health care provider, Malcolm said.

Federal health officials are investigating

A CDC advisory committee will discuss the cases Wednesday, and the FDA will investigate the cause of the clots and low platelet counts that appeared alongside them in the six patients.

At the same time, doctors will have time to better understand who might be at risk in getting the shot.

Malcolm acknowledged the news may perpetuate myths about vaccine safety, especially among communities that were wary of getting shots in the first place.

“We do understand this will prompt another round of questions from folks about safety and effectiveness,” she said. “It will reinforce our need to get people good information and get it to them from people they trust."

The pause is expected to be short-lived

If you’re scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the near future, Malcolm said, you can expect to be contacted by the provider where you’re scheduled to get your shot.

State officials say it’s unlikely the pause will last long or deeply interfere with the state’s efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Most vaccines given out in Minnesota, including a new large-scale site at the State Fairgrounds, are using the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Still, the news was met by frustration and concern by people who had been scheduled for their J&J shots Tuesday, and awoke to the news and canceled appointments.

Amanda Moon, 39, of Minneapolis, was among them. She’d scored her appointment a few days ago.

“I literally cried, I was so happy. We had been trying very hard,” she said. “This appointment was in my neighborhood and it was one-shot.”

But even before she got an alert from her local pharmacy, which was getting its doses from the federal government, that her appointment had been canceled, Moon had already decided to skip it.

Years ago, she had to stop taking birth control because she developed severe migraines, which her doctor told her put her at higher risk of blood clots.

Moon and her husband were able to get new appointments for the Pfizer vaccine through their healthcare provider for later in April.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.