Courtesy Utah Public Radio

Tuesday’s recommendation to suspend the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines will have a slight impact on El Paso’s vaccination efforts, potentially making it more difficult to protect hard-to-reach populations.

The state sent 1,900 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to El Paso this week, only about 6% of the first doses provided. The state has been sending far more first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to El Paso, including this week. 

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that providers suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines because of a potential blood clot threat.

“CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination,” the statement said.

The likelihood of this complication is extremely low: the six reported blood clot cases are out of nearly 7 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines distributed as of April 12.

“Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously. People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services urged providers to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“None of the cases of blood clots reported at this time have occurred in Texas, where more than 500,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered,” the agency said in a statement.

In El Paso, 1,700 of the 1,900 Johnson & Johnson vaccines sent this week went to two providers — 1,100 doses to two Wellmed clinics and 600 doses to El Paso Community College.

The college had not yet administered any of the vaccines this week and would suspend plans to administer them, spokeswoman Keri Moe said.

“EPCC was just recently approved to be a vaccine provider.  This was our first shipment of vaccines. Our initial distribution was going to be for faculty and staff, then rolled out to students contingent on future allotments from the state,” she said.

Wellmed is following the federal recommendations and suspending use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. El Paso Community College has not yet responded to a request for comment.

“WellMed will continue to administer the Moderna vaccine, which numerous studies have shown to be safe and effective. If possible, the health-care company will offer anyone who was scheduled to receive the J&J vaccine this week the option of receiving the first dose of Moderna,” the company said in a statement.

A Wellmed spokesman was checking to see if Moderna doses could be shifted to El Paso.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires a single dose, while Moderna and Pfizer require two doses administered three to four weeks apart for full effectiveness.

Because of that, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been used for hard-to-reach populations that may have difficulty making multiple appointments. This includes homebound seniors, people with disabilities jail inmates, migrant farmworkers and people in rural areas.

Life Ambulance last week administered 500 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses at ReadyOne, which primarily employees people with disabilities. 

The ambulance company is scheduled to receive 100 Johnson & Johnson doses this week.

“Life Ambulance will have to suspend our home visit vaccination program using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson product
until further notification from the state that it is safe to do so,” company President Rachel Harracksingh said. “We are saddened this has happened. The bed-bound population is so vulnerable.”

The other 100 Johnson & Johnson doses sent to El Paso by the state this week went to Conviva Care Center Cliffside, 1211B E. Cliff Drive in Central El Paso.

Conviva, which focuses on senior health care, received the doses on Monday and will suspend use as requested, said Cary Willis, a spokesman for the clinic’s owner, Humana.

“We had not yet used any of this vaccine by the time we learned of the request by the CDC and FDA to pause the administration of this vaccine,” he said.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.