SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Dr. Stephen Thacker, the associate medical officer for Memorial Health, has had one goal in the past few months — to get as many people as possible vaccinated for COVID-19.
So on Tuesday, after the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the agencies would pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, he worried it would affect the overall vaccination effort.
“I think this is definitely going to be a setback when it comes to those folks who were already hesitant about the vaccines,” said Thacker. “Now, we’ve discovered something that I think is extremely rare that may be related to one of the vaccines, and so I think it is a setback in that hesitancy discussion.”
FDA and CDC officials say they are pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six patients, all women, developed rare and severe blood clots after getting the vaccine. One has died.
The federal agencies say the pause will last a matter of days while research on the cases continues. The six women, between the ages of 18 and 48, developed symptoms after taking the vaccine.
“If you’re within about a three-week window of your vaccine, and you’ve developed severe headache, shortness of breath or swelling on your arms or legs, those are reasons to really connect with your primary care provider,” Thacker said, “or if you feel like it’s progressing quickly, present yourself to emergency care.”
The blood clots may travel to the brain and occur six to 13 days after vaccination. While serious, Thacker says the side effects of vaccines are extremely rare.
The state of Georgia quickly halted use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the FDA and CDC announcements. That means health agencies and pharmacies that have been using it or were planning on using it must use one of the other two vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.
Several hundred thousand people in Georgia have received the vaccine, while it has been distributed to 7 million nationwide.
Thacker says up to 190 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were given nationwide.
“So you can see, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is really a small footprint in the amount of vaccine delivered in the U.S. and in Georgia,” he said.
Thacker is hopeful that people will still be willing to take one of the other vaccines, despite publicity about the Johnson & Johnson cases. He does say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was considered important in terms of vaccinating some vulnerable populations — like homeless who have little access to health care — and that’s because only one does is required.
Tuesday, the city of Savannah suspended a program underway to give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the local homeless population.