MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama has temporarily paused giving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine out of an "abundance of caution" while federal officials investigate reports of rare blood clots, the state health officer announced Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that they were investigating unusual clots that occurred in six women 6 to 13 days after vaccination.
Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama's state health officer, said Alabama will follow the recommendation to pause the use of the vaccine out of an "abundance of caution" while federal officials investigate if there is any connection between the clots and the vaccine.
Harris cautioned people to remember these were six incidents out of 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine that have been given in the U.S.
"COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for Alabama. It is important to know that the adverse effects potentially stemming from the Johnson & Johnson shot have been extremely rare in the country, but out of an abundance of caution, Alabama is temporarily pausing these shots until we know more," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.
The pause throws an unexpected wrench in states' vaccination plans.
Some vaccine appointments were likely canceled this week, Harris said. But he added that the J&J vaccine makes up a small portion of the shots given in Alabama, so it should not have a large effect on vaccine availability.
Alabama has more than 300 providers distributing the J&J vaccine. "I don't know how many of them had clinic scheduled today, but certainly a lot of them," Harris said.
Alabama has so far distributed about 71,000 J&J doses. Harris said the state has another 88,000 or so doses that will sit on shelves while the investigation is carried out. He said that vaccine will be good until June. The Alabama National Guard halted plans to start giving the one-shot vaccine in clinics in addition to the two-shot doses.
However, the vaccine had only accounted for 71,000 of the more than 2 million COVID vaccinations given in the state, so Harris said the pause will not have a large effect on distribution. However, Harris said they had hoped to use the one-shot vaccine for harder-to-reach populations, such as those who are homebound.
The clots occurred in veins that drain blood from the brain and occurred together with low platelets, the fragments in blood that normally form clots. All six cases were in women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died, and all of the cases remain under investigation.