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Michigan heeds call to suspend use of J&J vaccine amid surge

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Health officials on Tuesday suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Michigan pending the outcome of a federal investigation into six cases in which women who received the drug developed blood clots.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced the temporary suspension of the single-dose vaccine after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended it throughout the country.

“The safety and health of Michiganders will always come first,” said Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy. “We will follow the FDA’s guidance to temporarily pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of an abundance of caution, and adapt our vaccine strategy going forward until a further review of the data can be conducted.”

Michigan is in the grips of another surge in COVID-19 cases and has the country’s highest infection rate over the past 14 days, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

It was not immediately clear how the suspension of the J&J vaccine would affect vaccinations statewide, but Detroit’s top health official, Denise Fair, said in a news release that Michigan’s largest city had enough of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be able to immunize anyone who was scheduled to get the J&J shot this week at the Northwest Activity Center or neighborhood clinics. People should stick to those appointment times and will be scheduled for second-dose follow-up appointments in three or four weeks.

The downtown convention center where Detroit has been conducting mass vaccinations is not affected by the suspension of the J&J vaccine because it has only been using the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The University of Michigan had planned to vaccinate 7,500 students with J&J doses this week and next. About 3,700 of them will instead get Pfizer shots, but 3,800 appointments across three campuses were canceled and will be rescheduled once supply allows, spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.

Michigan State University is able to honor all 2,400 appointments for students who were to have received the J&J vaccine this week because Ingham County will supply Pfizer doses instead, said school spokeswoman Emily Gerkin Guerrant.

Ingham County’s health department has about 4,200 J&J vaccine doses and has administered about 4,500 of them, so far. There are enough doses of the other vaccines to fill any gap, said the county’s health officer, Linda Vail.

“We’re not looking at an inventory shortage of vaccine right now,” said Vail, who added that her department has kept extra vaccine available. “That buffer has allowed us to be fairly nimble when things like this happen. We’ll have no problem working around them for a while.”

In southeastern Michigan’s Macomb County, all vaccination appointments will be honored, according to the county health department’s director, Andrew Cox.

“Currently, we have ample supply of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine,” Cox said. “If someone has an appointment, we encourage them to keep it.”

The CDC and FDA on Tuesday recommended a pause in the use of the J&J vaccine while they investigate reports that it might cause potentially dangerous blood clots. The six known cases of unusual clotting occurred six to 13 days after the women received the drug.

J&J doses accounted for 199,000, or 3.7%, of the nearly 5.4 million shots that had been administered in Michigan as of Sunday. About 41% of people in the state age 16 or older have received at least one dose.

Detroit has received more than 308,000 total doses of all vaccines made by Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. About 11,600 of those doses have been from J&J, according to the health department. About 251,655 doses of all three vaccines have been administered in the city, though it was not immediately clear how many were J&J doses.

In early March, Detroit turned down 6,200 doses of the then-newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with Mayor Mike Duggan saying he wanted to rely on those made by Moderna and Pfizer, which testing showed are more effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. At the time, Duggan’s position conflicted with guidance from top state and federal health officials who cautioned against comparing the three vaccines and noted that they all provide strong protection against severe cases of the disease.

Detroit soon changed course and began accepting the J&J doses, with Duggan calling them “a key part of our expansion of vaccine centers.”

Whitmer has been calling for the federal government to send extra doses to help Michigan combat its surge in COVID-19 cases, but President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will stick to distributing vaccines to states proportionately by population.

Leddy said the issues with the J&J vaccine show it is more important than ever for the federal government to send additional Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to Michigan.