J&J vaccine paused, Virginia prepares to move into phase 2 for COVID-19 vaccinations

Richmonders receive their COVID-19 vaccine at the Richmond Raceway on April 13. The vaccination center at the Raceway reopened on Oct. 12.

Sagal Ahmed, Contributing Writer 

Administration of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine has been paused in Virginia as of April 13 due to six nationwide cases of extremely rare blood clots as side effects of the vaccine.

This measure follows a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pause use of the vaccine “out of an abundance of caution.”

The death of a 45-year-old woman in Virginia is being investigated by the CDC in connection with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to Vaccinate Virginia spokesperson Dena Potter

Those who have an appointment to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be contacted to reschedule. The vaccine rollout will continue with the other two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, according to a statement made by Virginia Department of Health State Vaccination Coordinator Danny Avula.

“This pause is reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working,” Avula said. “We look forward to a thorough review by federal health officials.” 

Virginia will move into phase 2 of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan on April 18, meaning anyone who is 16 years old and older will be eligible to receive the shot. Richmond and Henrico are already in phase 2 with VCU preparing vaccination clinics in response.

Avula said everyone who wants to be vaccinated in Virginia will be able to by the end of May with at least the first dose.

Registration for vaccinations will continue to be done the same way since phase 1. People can go to vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-829-4682 to register for a vaccination appointment. This will lead to a portal that will show available appointments within a certain radius.

A tray of vaccines at the Richmond Raceway. Photo by Enza Marcy

“The goal is to have as many appointments available through open registration as possible,” Avula said.

Avula said VDH will only make appointments for vaccine shipments they know they will be receiving.

VDH will adjust where they send the vaccine based on the demand in communities on a weekly basis to counteract high demands in certain communities. They will assess the demand by the degree to which the appointments fill up. 

Avula said if vaccine appointments aren’t filling up in certain areas, like Lynchburg for example, then VDH will send more to an area where the demand is high, like Northern Virginia.

He anticipates that VDH will only be able to vaccinate about 60% of the population who want to receive the vaccine based on national surveys. This falls short of their goal to vaccinate 75% of the population. 

“So we’re gonna have to do a lot of different types of work to get to that last 10 to 15%,” Avula said.

VDH has been working closely with colleges to plan their vaccinations in relation to their last day of classes and graduation dates. 

VCU is currently scheduling on-campus vaccination clinics for eligible students and employees with VDH and VCU Health System. They are confirming vaccine supply as well as seeing who is interested so they can anticipate how many students and employees they will need to serve, according to an email from Director of Environmental Health and Safety Michael Cimis. There is a temporary vaccination clinic at the University Student Commons for eligible VCU employees and students.

Cimis stated their focus now is to distribute the vaccine as soon as they can. VCU is requesting that students and employees self-report their vaccination to the university so they know where they stand in regards to vaccinated community members.

Students must complete a survey to receive an invitation to schedule an appointment. They will receive an email from the vaccination clinics when the student is ready to make the appointment. 

The email will include information such as appointment location and what type of vaccine the student will receive. Student Health Services anticipate the vaccine clinic will be held at the University Student Commons. A student must email vaccine@vcu.edu after appointment confirmation if they need any accommodations, according to an email from Residential Life and Housing on April 9.   

People who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider, or call 911 if it is a medical emergency.

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