North Carolina joins other states in halting use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine following six severe reactions, one death

Photo: Javier Zaya, Getty Images

North Carolina health care providers are being asked to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine following severe reactions in six women — none of them from North Carolina.

Out of an abundance of caution, use of the vaccine will be paused in North Carolina until the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control can complete an investigation and give further advice, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the  North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in a Tuesday press conference.

“Today’s actions are the result of a vaccine safety system that is working,” Cohen said. “When a problem was identified, even in just six cases, the system was able to let providers know they should pause use of the vaccine for further study. North Carolina is following the FDA and CDC advice.”

The reactions causing the FDA and CDC investigation happened in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and another was in critical condition as of Tuesday afternoon.

Dr. Mandy Cohen

The women developed a rare type of blood clot, Cohen said, which shouldn’t be treated in the typical way using anti-coagulants or blood thinners like Heparin. The blood-clot condition, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, had combined with low levels of blood platelets in the six cases under scrutiny according to the FDA.

The reaction appears to be so rare as to be “literally one in a million,” Cohen said, with more than six million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine having been administered and just six known cases so far.

“This pause will allow them to look further at the data and make sure providers know how to treat this rare blood clot,” Cohen said.

Those who have appointments to get the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines should keep those appointments, Cohen said. Those who had appointments to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will need to reschedule. The state is working to make sure enough vaccine is available for all those who want it.

“COVID-19 vaccines continue to be the most effective way to end this pandemic by preventing the spread of COVID-19, preventing hospitalization and death,” Cohen said. “Our goal is that everyone gets a safe vaccine.”

The vast majority of people who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported nothing beyond soreness and a bit of fatigue, Cohen said.

“That’s what I experienced when I got the Johnson & Johnson shot,” she said.

Anyone who develops severe headache, abdominal pain, shortness of breath or leg pain within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should report it to their health care provider, Cohen said. But more than 242,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been given in North Carolina as of Tuesday, Cohen said. So far, no severe reactions have been reported. Read more

Responses to COVID-19 offer the chance to address racism in healthcare, experts said

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark relief how the health care system fails people with low incomes and people of color, panelists at a Duke University Margolis Center forum said last week.

Longstanding inequities in health care put people of color at greater risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms and death. The inequities continue with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, with white people getting disproportionate share of vaccines.

“Our health care system doesn’t work well for low income, low health literacy, undocumented – that didn’t start with COVID,” said Abner Mason, founder and CEO of ConsejoSano, a company that works with health care providers and insurers on patient engagement that is multicultural and multilingual.

“It shocked people out of their relative acceptance of a horrible system,” he said.

Building trusting relationships with communities and individuals is essential to  improving health, the panelists said.

Students in the Margolis Scholars Program at Duke  organized the event.

Kumbie Madondo is director of Community Partnerships & Policy Solutions at the New York Academy of Medicine, which works with the New York City Department of Health. She said the city’s health department is addressing disparities and racism in healthcare.

“We need to call things as they are,” she said. “If there is racism in health care, call it for what it is. In the communities we serve, health disparities are borne out of racism.”

In North Carolina, Latinx communities get confusing information about vaccines, said doctors and community health workers.

Dr. Edith Nieves Lopez, a pediatrician at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham said CDC information about COVID-19 does not translate well into Spanish.

“Sadly, there are few things that you find online that are culturally sensitive that can relay information in a few sentences,” she said.

Lopez said it was her job to get people in the community to trust her.

Increasing access to care and making sustainable change is important, said Onyi Ohamidike, a third-year medical student.

“Community members need to see people who look like them” and share their experiences, she said. Often blame is put on communities for not being able to trust, she said, taking the focus off institutions that should become trustworthy,

“We might all look at ourselves at great, kind, empathetic people,” Ohamidike said. “We need to recognize that we are attached to an institution that has harmed a lot of people.”

Griselda Alonso, a community health worker, said it is important to get people in the Latinx community clear and accurate information.

It’s hard for the Latinx community to trust medicine when last year, they heard about a doctor sterilizing women held in an ICE detention center, Alonso said.

“Try to be empathetic with my community,” she said. “Leave your privilege to the side.”

Elon Poll: Support for COVID-19 vaccination has grown dramatically

Support for and confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine has grown dramatically in the last six months, according to a new Elon University poll released this week.

The poll, taken from March 30 to April 2, found 63 percent of respondents had already been vaccinated or plan to be.

When Elon began asking about peoples’ vaccine plans in October, only 33 percent answered “yes” when asked if they planned to be vaccinated when that became possible.

Those who are unsure or skeptical remain, however. In the poll 18 percent of respondents said they are not sure whether they will take the vaccine and 19 percent said they do not plan to do so.

“The size of the group of residents saying ‘no’ to vaccines has consistently been around 20 percent for months,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and associate professor of political science.

Across four surveys, Elon has found the number of people against taking a vaccine holding steady at about 20 percent.

“This continues to cast doubt in my mind about whether some herd immunity goals will be met throughout all regions of North Carolina,” Husser said.

While the poll found a split in attitudes by political party, a majority of both Democrats (76 percent) and Republicans (54 percent) were in favor of vaccination. Among those who belong to neither party, 57 percent were in favor.

Dramatically more Republicans (28 percent) said they will not be vaccinated compared to Democrats (9 percent). Among those belonging to neither party, 22 percent said they would not be vaccinated.

The poll found modest variation on the issue by race, with 64 percent of white respondents saying they were already vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated and 63 percent of respondents of other races answering the same way. The poll found 59 percent of Black respondents had already been or planned to be vaccinated.

A greater variation was found according to level of education. The poll found 10 percent of those with a bachelors degree or higher said they would not be vaccinated. Among those with less than a bachelors degree, that number was 24 percent. The poll found 55 percent of those with a bachelors degree or higher said they had already been vaccinated while 31 percent of those with less than a bachelors degree said they had.

Among those who have already been vaccinated, 92 percent said they are glad they took the vaccine.

The poll found 80 percent describing the experience  of vaccination as “very easy” or “somewhat easy,” with two-thirds reporting they no negative side effects.  Of those who did experience negative side effects, 69 percent said it was no more than “a minor disruption.”

 

The poll was a representative online survey of 1,395 North Carolinians. The overall results have a credibility interval of +/- 2.8 percentage points, according to information released by the school.

Read the full report, including more information about methodology, here.

Biden opens up eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, as infections surge in some states

Vaccinations open to all North Carolina adults on Wednesday, supply may soon exceed demand

North Carolinians stymied by the lack of COVID vaccines a few weeks ago will soon find that’s no longer a problem.

Starting this Wednesday the vaccine will be available to anyone 16 years and older who wants to get vaccinated.

So far 5.2 million vaccines have been administered across our state with 39% of all adults now partially vaccinated, and 26% of adults fully vaccinated.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen

Hospitalization numbers and the percent of positive COVID tests have been level over the past few weeks, but every day matters moving forward, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen.

“We are making positive progress, but our work is not done yet,” said Cohen in Tuesday’s press briefing.

Dr. Cohen noted that new cases are cropping up in younger people, who are less vaccinated at this point.

“This virus is circulating among those that are not vaccinated, and that’s why we need to make sure we are keeping up our guard,” Cohen cautioned.

“Remember not only is this virus still circulating, but we are seeing changes in the virus itself, that makes it more contagious.”

Plenty of supply

Governor Roy Cooper also acknowledged that the the state may soon be at a point where the availability of Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson& Johnson vaccines exceeds the demand in the some parts of the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper

“Family doctors, ministers, public figures, friends and family members all need to play a role in getting as many people vaccinated as possible,” Cooper said. “We’re going to have plenty of supply. And we need to continue to push up the demand to get as many people vaccinated as possible”

Click here to find a vaccine location.

The push to vaccinate more North Carolinians comes as President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that every American adult will be eligible to be vaccinated by April 19th.

That’s about two weeks ahead of the previously announced deadline of May 1st.

Vaccine passports still under review

On the issue of vaccine passports – digital proof of vaccination – the governor said the issue is still being reviewed by his administration.

“We are obviously collecting information about people’s vaccinations, so we can track to make sure they got their first shot and their second shot,” said Sec. Cohen.

“We just want to make sure people can access their own information, about that vaccine for whatever purpose they may need. So we are looking at different IT solutions to make that as easy as possible.”

The governors of Florida and Texas have moved to ban such passports, preventing businesses from requiring their customers to show proof of vaccination.

Progress in slowing the spread of COVID: None of North Carolina’s counties are currently red. There are now 21 orange counties, 47 yellow counties, 31 light yellow counties, and 1 green county. In comparison, the previous report posted March 18, 2021 showed1 red county, 17 orange counties, and 82 yellow counties. (Source: DHHS)