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Local Pharmacists Scramble As Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Is Paused

Medical Reserve Corps of Dutchess County member Roz DiNardo administers a COVID-19 vaccination to one of 60 local residents, January 25, 2021
Courtesy of Dutchess County government

The federal government is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots.

State health departments are telling providers to suspend administration of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with federal guidance. In a joint statement Tuesday morning, the CDC and FDA say they’re investigating clots in a handful of women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts. More than 6.8 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the U.S.

Albany area state Assemblyman John McDonald is also a licensed pharmacist. The Democrat runs Marra's pharmacy in Cohoes.

"The timing is really unfortunate," McDonald said. "I actually had clinics in hard to reach communities, the Black and brown communities particularly scheduled for Thursday and Friday of this week, and 300 doses were scheduled to be administered, and unfortunately it looks like right now that's gonna have to be delayed an possibly cancelled, depending on what the outcome is of the vaccine."

Pharmacist Neal Smoller runs Village Apothecary in Woodstock, New York.

"We have 1,600 doses that we were allocating towards local colleges," Smoller said. "I've taken my show on the road, and I'm going back to school and we've hit up a bunch of colleges. So we were going to distribute them this week, we put our clinics on pause before New York state did but after the FDA had urged folks to put it on pause, and the reason we're doing that is because we are students of science, we want to follow the data. And right now, all we know is that there are six cases out of 7 million doses administered of this adverse event. So I believe that this is great. This is what we want. We want this abundance of caution. And we want this transparent, honest approach and people should be happy that we were taking new steps and not fearful because we don't know yet. We need to do an investigation. We need to understand how are these things related if they are at all."

Smoller says in the general population, the incidence of blood clots is about one in a thousand, so the events reported could be unrelated to the vaccine.

McDonald says while millions have received doses of the J&J vaccine without incident, he is concerned the pause will increase vaccine hesitancy.

"This is not gonna help in regard to building confidence," McDonald said. "And we need to be mindful of the fact that we still have good options, great options, in regard to Pfizer and Moderna."

As McDonald, Smoller and other pharmacists await the results of FDA and CDC reviews, and more information about possible effects, they're urging people who have appointments to keep them, as vaccination clinics will substitute the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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