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Missouri and Illinois decide to resume giving Johnson & Johnson vaccine

FDA and CDC lifted the pause on the one-dose shot after 11 days, then left it up to state health officials to move ahead
Credit: Johnson & Johnson

ST. LOUIS — Missouri and Illinois health officials waited to see how their states would tread forward Friday on the question of restarting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Many health departments and providers were seeking the same answers.

On Friday night, Missouri decided its COVID-19 vaccinators could immediately resume administering the one-dose immunization. Illinois had given providers the go-ahead a couple of hours earlier.

State officials determined that the vaccine's benefits were an acceptable risk in spite of the possibility of a rare but severe side effect.

Out of nearly eight million COVID-19 vaccinations using the Johnson and Johnson shot, 15 cases resulted in a rare type of blood clot. Three have died. All of the cases with blood clots were in women. 

The label warning will say women younger than 50 should know the risk before getting a shot.

Now, a CDC panel says despite the risk, we should continue using the vaccine, as the benefits far outweigh the serious, but small risk.

This decision comes after the vaccine was put on pause for 11 days. 

The FDA and CDC had agreed to lift the pause, and the CDC director signed off on it.

From there, the FDA update the label with a risk warning.

In Lincoln County, there were 100 J&J vaccines, and they administered a third of that, a day before the pause.

Administrator Brett Seifert says, "It looks like the state needs time to process new information from the federal side of things. A lot will hinge on what the state decides to do."

Jefferson and St. Charles county health departments were also staying put until they heard from the state.

A spokesperson from Jefferson County says it has about 900 J&J doses. It will put those doses out, if it gets the guidance from the state to do so. 

On Monday, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said local health department officials are reviewing the information from the state and CDC and making plans for how they'll use the J&J doses left in stock. The county has about 1,700 of the vaccines on hand.

"This pause showed the vaccination process is being closely watched by medical authorities and they will continue monitoring all vaccines to make sure that they're safe," Page said.

On the other side of the river, head of the Monroe County Health Department says, if approved, it will use its small batch of J&J.

From there, it will check out the public's perception.

If people are getting it, the department will order large volumes.

If not, it will switch.

In downtown St. Louis, the mass clinic at The Dome at America's Center has dished out 18,000 Pfizer shots in a two-week span.

But for the last two weeks of the clinic, it was going to switch to J&J.

FEMA had to stand by, too, to see what's next.

"We are going to be looking at that very closely in the next week or so to see what we’ll be providing at the community vaccination center," Deanna Frazier, a FEMA spokesperson, says. 

As for St. Louis, a spokesperson says:

"Until a decision is reached whether the authorization of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine should be resumed, the Department of Health will continue to offer the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines during our scheduled outreach. This outreach includes the homebound vaccination program and a Moderna second dose clinic scheduled for tomorrow. The Department of Health strives to protect the health of the community and give each resident the best chance at achieving optimal health."

5 On Your Side also reached out to SLU and we're told if/when the FDA and state approve the use of the J&J vaccine, SLU will begin administering it to their community members. 

At the time of the brief hiatus, J&J accounted for less than 5% of all U.S. shots administered.

Seifert says, while it may seem small, every single vaccine reflects one more person getting immunity.

"Collectively, the more vaccine in the market and saturate the market who want it, the better," he adds.