Federal health officials are recommending a halt in administering the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine as they review a small number of reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot. A pause on the J&J vaccine could affect vaccination efforts in senior living communities.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are examining data involving six reported U.S. cases of a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in people who had received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. All six cases happened among women between the ages of 18 and 48, with symptoms occurring six to 13 days after vaccination.
The two federal agencies announced the decision jointly on Tuesday, while adding that the adverse effects under review appeared to be extremely rare.
“Covid-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following Covid-19 vaccination very seriously,” the agencies’ joint statement read.
In response to the announcement, states and cities across the U.S. scrambled to pause their own administration of the vaccine during the review period. The White House on Tuesday said the pause “will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan.”
“[The] Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the recorded shots in arms in the United States to date,” reads a statement from White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients. “Based on actions taken by the president earlier this year, the United States has secured enough Pfizer and Moderna doses for 300 million Americans.”
Still, the pause could have an impact on the senior housing and care industry, “as the federal government was primarily allocating the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to nursing homes and assisted living communities,” according to Dr. David Gifford, chief medical officer for the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).
“Without swift action to replace these vaccines, we could see tragic consequences. We appreciate federal and state officials ensuring our most vulnerable and their caregivers have steady and rapid access to vaccines,” Gifford said in a press release about the vaccine halt.
Neither CVS Health and its long-term care pharmacy Omnicare or Walgreens have used the Johnson & Johnson vaccines during the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program clinics, representatives for the pharmacy companies told SHN.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was formally approved for use on an emergency basis on February 27, as the federal nursing home and assisted living vaccination program was nearing the end of its three-clinic schedule at facilities across the country.
Outside of that program, CVS/Omnicare and Walgreens have paused using Johnson and Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, citing the recommendation from the federal health agencies, and are awaiting next steps from the CDC and FDA.
Brentwood, Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), the largest senior living operator in the U.S., worked with Omnicare and thus did not use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during its Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program vaccination clinics, which wrapped up this week.
A representative for the company told Senior Housing News that a prolonged pause could impact availability of future vaccines — such as those facilitated through a partnership with a local pharmacy — but cautioned that it was still too early to tell whether there would be any effects.
Dr. Sandra Petersen, who is leading Dallas-based Pegasus Senior Living’s Covid-19 response as a consultant to its health and wellness team, does not think the pause will ultimately make a large impact on senior living vaccination efforts.
“I doubt it will make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things,” Petersen told SHN. “But, because the vaccines were approved for emergency use, there is an abundance of caution taken when these sorts of things occur.”
The effects of the vaccine pause vary by situation, according to Phil Fogg, Jr., CEO of Milwaukie, Oregon-based Marquis Companies, along with its in-house long-term care pharmacy, Consonus Pharmacy.
The seven long-term care pharmacy providers that were approved by CDC and state to be a vaccine distributor in phase one of the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program — which includes Consonus — generally have ample supplies of both the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for ongoing clinics, he told SHN.
Long-term care pharmacies that were approved and designated to distribute the Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the second phase of the program will now have vaccine access “based on state and their supply of non-J&J vaccination supply,” Fogg said, while pharmacies who were not approved or whose approval was contingent on vaccine supply might run into disruptions.
“Final comment is that we are consistently hearing that this will not be a long-term disruption,” Fogg said. “We are hearing projections of 2-3 weeks.”
That is also a view held by Petersen,.
“I think the ‘hold’ on the J&J vaccine will last only a few days to a few weeks at best,” Petersen told SHN. “Could it make a dent in vaccine efforts? Yes, but a very small one.”
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