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Pima pauses J&J COVID vaccine after CDC reports rare blood clots

After the CDC reported six U.S. cases of a "rare and severe" blood clot in people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19, Pima County announced Tuesday it was pausing distribution of that shot. The county has "received no reports of adverse reactions" here, officials said.

County health officials cited "guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arizona Department of Health Services" and said that the temporary pause in delivering the one-shot vaccine was "out of an abundance of caution."

The county will use the Moderna vaccine at the mobile clinics that have been providing the Johnson & Johnson shots, and officials said they do not anticipate canceling any appointments or scheduled vaccination events.

More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the United States.

The government announced Tuesday that it was recommending the pause, and undertaking a review that may be resolved within a few days.

Six women who had the J&J one-shot vaccine developed severe blood clots, and one died. Health officials are unsure if the clotting cases were caused by the vaccine, or just coincidental.

"Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare," the FDA said.

"Vaccines available today are safe and effective," said Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department. "And although out of an abundance of caution we have paused the use of J&J, we urge unvaccinated to continue to keep getting vaccinated."

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The Pima County Health Department has given 24,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine since March 4, primarily at its mobile points of distribution. No adverse reactions have been reported to county officials.

"The estimated risk of a blood clot from the J&J vaccine is about 1 in a million," Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology at the University of Arizona, said in a news release distributed by the county.

"The overall risk from dying if you get COVID-19 is about 1 in 100," said Bhattacharya.

"Let's say that there is a 10 percent chance that someone will catch COVID-19," the UA scientist said. "Then the overall risk for an unvaccinated person catching and dying from COVID-19 is about 1 in 1,000, which is about 1,000 times more likely than having a complication from the J&J vaccine."

Pima County residents who received the J&J vaccine and have experienced symptoms of severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their primary care physician immediately, officials said.

The CDC administers an after-vaccination health-check program called V-safe that enables those who sign up to tell the CDC about any side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. You can register with a smartphone.

There were 19 new deaths added Tuesday to Arizona's total number of residents who have died from COVID-19, which now stands at 17,105. In Pima County, 4 new deaths were reported, with 2,373 county residents dead from the virus.

Across the state, there were 610 new confirmed coronavirus infections reported, with more than 850,000 cases over the past year. More than 113,000 of those who have been reported to be infected have been in Pima County, where 58 new cases were reported Tuesday.

About 36 percent of Arizonans have been vaccinated against the virus. Health experts say that to achieve "herd immunity" and effectively stem the spread of coronavirus, 70-plus percent must be vaccinated or have antibodies from a prior COVID infection.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A man receives his second shot during a March county-run 'pop-up' site for vaccines.