By SCOTT JACKSON
Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday said the decision by federal regulators to temporarily stop the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine would have a minimal impact on Massachusetts’ vaccination efforts.
“The health and safety of our residents remains a paramount and fundamental concern for us and the commonwealth will closely monitor this issue and follow federal guidance as we move forward with our vaccination program,” Baker said during a press conference at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, one of seven mass vaccination sites in the state.
“The J&J supply in Massachusetts is currently a small portion of our supply. In the immediate future, we are expecting minimal disruption to schedule new appointments.”
Massachusetts received 11,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week as part its state allocation, Baker noted, compared to 340,000 doses combined of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. To date, 4.7 million doses of the three COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the Bay State, 192,000 of which were the J&J vaccine.
The CDC and FDA on Tuesday recommended a temporary pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The agencies called for the pause after receiving reports that six of the 6.8 million individuals who received the vaccine in the United States developed a “rare and severe type of blood clot” that cannot be treated with the anticoagulant heparin. All six cases occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred between six and 13 days after vaccination, the agencies said.
The CDC’s Committee on Immunization Practices planned to meet Wednesday to review those reports. The FDA will also conduct its own investigation.
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, federal officials said.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Baker said Massachusetts agreed to pause the use of the J&J vaccine Tuesday following the federal announcement out of an abundance of caution. The governor said he was glad the federal government took the steps it did.
“The decision that the FDA and the CDC made here based on six cases out of 7 million administered, to put a pause on this and take a look at it, is an example of the system working the way it should,” Baker said.
“In an abundance of caution, they put out the word, said we need to take a look at this, and that is what they are doing.”
Baker, who received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month, said he would still feel confident taking the J&J vaccine.
“I would take the J&J if it had been available – and I would still take it – but I think it is important for the feds to do their homework on this because the last thing we want to do is make decisions based on anything but the best available information,” he said.
Baker noted that Marylou Sudders, the state’s health and human services secretary, previously received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The J&J vaccine is based on a different technology than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. The J&J vaccine uses an inactivated, modified form of a common cold virus, known as an adenovirus, to teach the immune system to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use messenger RNA to prepare the immune system to recognize the coronavirus.
All Bay State residents over the age of 55 are now eligible to get the vaccine, as are those with one or more qualifying health condition and certain essential workers. All residents ages 16 and up will be eligible to get their shots starting April 19, though only the Pfizer vaccine has been cleared for use in 16- and 17-year-olds.
All residents should get the vaccine when they can, the governor said.
“It is critically important, I believe, for me and my family that I get vaccinated, and I think it is critically important for everybody, when they have that opportunity, to sign up and get vaccinated,” Baker said.
“The vaccine is a big part of getting back to what we might call normal and it is critical for all of us to take advantage of this opportunity when we have it.”
All residents can preregister for an appointment at mass.gov/covidvaccine, regardless of when they are eligible to book an appointment. Preregistration is currently available for the state’s seven mass vaccination sites – including the Hynes Convention Center and the Reggie Lewis Center, both in Boston – and six regional collaboratives, including one in Marshfield and five in the western part of the state.
Appointments for other locations can also be booked online through the state website and the site has a complete list of occupations now eligible for the vaccine and the list of qualifying medical conditions. Residents without internet access can call 2-1-1 and follow the prompts to schedule an appointment.
Residents can also book appointments directly through the websites for pharmacies like CVS, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s/Star Market, and Walgreens.