Gov. Beshear pauses Johnson & Johnson vaccine use in Kentucky

Posted at 11:49 AM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 23:15:51-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Gov. Andy Beshear and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack advised all Kentucky health providers on Tuesday to pause the use of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

The decision was made after the FDA and the CDC issued a joint statement asking states to immediately pause the use of the J&J shot. The federal government's recommendation was made after reports that six women who got J&J vaccine developed blood clots within two weeks of receiving the vaccine. There have been about 6.8 million total doses of the J&J vaccine delivered nationwide.

CDC officials say the blood clots appear to be extremely rare. Governor Beshear echoed that sentiment.

"Stay calm," said Gov. Beshear. "It looks like the risk here is very, very small versus the really significant risk of being harmed by COVID. They're being careful. They're making sure they can treat anyone who has a side effect because of this vaccine, but we believe the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is likely to be up and running - and maybe directed at a different population - but still back in the fold soon."

Gov. Beshear said while the news is not good, it is also "not crippling of our vaccination efforts." Johnson and Johnson made up a small fraction of Kentucky's vaccine supply.

"Kentucky has received very little Johnson and Johnson, as has the country, in terms of overall vaccination programs," said Beshear. "It has mainly been used in Kentucky with independent pharmacies, in our corrections institutions, to reach difficult to reach populations and some other areas across the state in our regular programs."

About 1.6 million Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Most of them have been either Pfizer or Moderna. Beshear didn't have the exact number of Kentuckians who received J&J, but he said the state has gotten about 210,000 doses of J&J, although not all have been used.

"We'll be south of 5% of the total doses that have been administered," said Beshear.

Gov. Beshear said his concern is that this step will affect people who were already hesitant to get the vaccine. So, he encourages everyone to continue their effort to get vaccinated.

"We need people - absolutely need you - to get that Pfizer or Moderna vaccine," said Beshear.

To those Kentuckians who received the J&J shot, Beshear urges people to stay calm.

"You're going to be okay," said Beshear. "With a one in 550 chance of dying from COVID or a one in one million chance of maybe having this complication - where there's only six in America - you're going to be okay. But make sure that you watch for the symptoms if you are less than 14 days out from when you got the vaccine. Watch for those symptoms. If you have them, go see the doctor."

Dr. Stack says the symptoms to look out for are severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within two weeks of receiving the J&J shot.

"If you're past 14 days, you're fine," said Beshear. "At least from what we know right now - you're fine."

Dr. Stack reminded people that the risk of dying from COVID is greater than the risk of side effects from a vaccine.

“The relative risk of harm from COVID-19 enormously outweighs the risk of any potential harm from a vaccine.”

News of the rare blood clots prompted Melissa Stambro of Scott County to see her doctor as soon as possible.

"I was like can he get me in today? Let's take a look," she said.

Stambro received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Thurday and began to feel back pain, headaches, and other symptoms on Sunday.

"Then was pretty much incapacitated yesterday,' she said.

But her doctor assured her the blood clots were rare, and she still feels glad to receive the vaccine.

"I'm trying to maintain positivity and it'll be safe. It'll be fine. It's better than maybe the alternative of getting covid and having some of the other issues that come with that."

Scott County woman worried after taking Johnson & Johnson vaccine