WU pauses J&J distribution, plans Pfizer to start Friday

, and | News Editors
HN Hoffman | Student Life

Students fill out paperwork as they wait in line to get vaccinated at the vaccine clinic on the WUSM campus

This article has been updated as of Wednesday, April 14 at 7 p.m. to include information about the vaccine clinic’s reopening date

Washington University canceled this week’s Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinics at the medical school campus Tuesday morning, following recommendations from federal health agencies after six cases of “extremely rare” blood clots emerged in recipients. Students, faculty and staff who had their appointments canceled will be able to receive the Pfizer vaccine starting Friday, after the University secured a supply of those two-dose vaccines from the Barnes-Jewish system.

The University had been offering the J&J vaccine to students, faculty and staff since last Friday. 

“We’re likely going to be able to reschedule everybody who is scheduled for today to be able to get the Pfizer vaccine later in the week… so to be able to accommodate those who had already been scheduled and signed up,” Dr. Steve Lawrence, the University’s top viral infectious disease expert, said in an interview with Student Life.

The University announced the pause on distribution of the J&J vaccine in an email from Eva Aagard, Senior Associate Dean for Education in the School of Medicine, and Kirk Dougher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness.

“The agencies have made this move out of an abundance of caution due to the identification of a rare, but serious potential side effect in approximately one per million vaccine recipients,” Aagard and Dougher wrote. “It is important to note that we do not yet know if these cases are due to the vaccine. We will follow the investigation closely and determine our next steps based on the findings and federal recommendations.” 

All six individuals who suffered the rare blood disorder were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman has died, while another was hospitalized in critical condition. In all cases, symptoms developed within six to thirteen days after vaccination. Federal officials are concerned that doctors might not be trained to spot and address the symptoms of the rare blood disorder in vaccine recipients; different treatments are required to combat the specific blood clot potentially linked to the vaccine. 

Though news of these potential side effects is “scary,” Lawrence said that University members who just received the vaccine should not be alarmed.

“I would not be overly concerned if I had just gotten vaccinated,” Lawrence said. “It is too early to say if those occurred because of the vaccine, or if they would have occurred anyway.”

Lawrence added that even though students should not be too worried about having received the J&J vaccine, pausing new administrations of the vaccine is the right thing to do.

“The appropriate thing to do is what’s being done,” he said, describing the move as “a pause while further data are collected to try to determine if there is a direct causal effect because that has not been established yet.”

Lawrence added that the one per one million occurrence of the rare blood clots is slightly lower than the risk for a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (a rate of about two to five per one million), and many epidemiologists have noted that the blood clot rate was lower than that associated with some common forms of birth control.

Prior to today’s news from public health officials, the University had strongly encouraged students to get the J&J vaccine on campus. The ‘One and Done’ single dose nature of the J&J vaccine makes it attractive for college campuses, Dougher told Student Life last week.

Freshman Carsen Codel, who received the J&J vaccine yesterday, said that he has not been “super concerned” about receiving the shot, in part because the six blood clot cases occurred in women.

“I think I might be more concerned if I was a woman,” Codel said. “But at the same time, other medications have higher blood clot risks. And I think weighing the risk of blood clots from a vaccine versus not getting vaccinated and potentially spreading the disease to other people, and they get hurt or die as a result, I think the benefits outweigh the costs.”

Even though Codel said he still would have taken the vaccine after learning about the six cases, he supported the University’s decision to halt J&J vaccinations.

“I think that the school is probably doing the right thing,” Codel said. “It’d be a little weird for Wash. U. to continue while the U.S. government is recommending something else.”

Junior Lucy Schlueter, who had been scheduled to get vaccinated today, agreed that it was the right decision for the University to pause the vaccinations.

“My dad’s a physician, so he also emailed me this morning because he knew I was supposed to get my vaccine and he was like, ‘just so you know, the blood clots,’ he said, ‘were specifically in young women,’” Schlueter said. “It looks like it was our demographic, and I’d rather not take that chance because if there’s a better way, if there are other vaccines out there, then I’d like to avoid that risk, definitely.”

“I believe the CDC and the FDA,” Schlueter added. “They’re top notch doctors, so they’re gonna make the right choice and I’m happy to abide by that.” 

Freshman Keona Dordor, who got the J&J vaccine from the University on Friday, said that she “wasn’t too fazed” by the blood clot concerns.

“I’d take an odd of getting a blood clot over COVID any day, and the odds aren’t even that bad,” Dordor said. 

However, freshman Rosie Lopolito, who was vaccinated with the J&J vaccine on the Medical Campus yesterday, said that news of blood clots made her “really nervous.” 

“This feels like something important considering the cases of the blood clots of young people; it feels like a pressing issue for us,” Lopolito said. “But then I am comforted by the fact that only six people have had issues out of the millions of people who have gotten the vaccine. So I hope that I’m completely average and then nothing happens to me.”

The pause on new vaccinations comes as the J&J vaccine is still overcoming hurdles in the production and distribution process from earlier this year, including the contamination of up to 15 million doses at a Baltimore manufacturing plant in March. 

Students looking to receive a vaccine off-campus can refer to the new website for scheduling appointments in the St. Louis area that was just launched, April 13. Per an email from the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, vaccinations are administered from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week at The Dome in downtown St. Louis. Missouri has halted the distribution of J&J vaccines across the state.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.