Kansas health secretary says recoil from Johnson and Johnson vaccine disrupts race against variants

By: - April 13, 2021 10:04 am

KDHE secretary Lee Norman and Gov. Laura Kelly urge Kansans to get vaccinated following formal approval of the Pfizer vaccine by federal regulators. (March 15, 2021, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary Lee Norman says efforts to vaccinate the public will grow more difficult following the announcement of rare blood clots associated with Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended an abrupt halt in the use of the vaccine based on six cases of bloods clots among women who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. KDHE stopped the use of the vaccine in Kansas while federal officials review those cases.

Johnson and Johnson’s one-shot vaccine provided a convenient alternative to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that require two shots spaced a month apart. The arrival of Johnson and Johnson vaccines in March provided a boost in the supply chain as medical professional race to inoculate as many adults as possible while variants of the deadly virus proliferate.

Norman said Tuesday’s announcement shouldn’t deter people from receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which don’t have any reported “dominant complication.”

“I can fully understand why people who are somewhat riding the fence anyway, would take a pause to reconsider whether they should get it,” Norman said during a briefing with the University of Kansas Health System. “I mean, that’s a normal, informed human response. It does make it a problem for our vaccine rollout.”

More than 1.5 million doses of the three vaccines have been administered in Kansas, including second doses of Pfizer and Moderna.

Norman said demand for the vaccines has slipped in recent weeks, even after it was made available to all adults in late March. Some vaccinating sites have open appointments, he said.

“It used to be, ‘I’ll take whatever vaccine you can give me, and I’ll take it as soon as I can.’ And now people are starting to have more opinions,” Norman said.

The latest report on vaccine supply from KDHE, from last Thursday, indicates Kansas expected to receive 56,800 doses of Moderna, 87,750 does of Pfizer, and 5,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines this week. Another 56,800 doses of Moderna are expected next week, along with 77,390 doses of Pfizer. Those figures include booster shots.

The virus has killed 4,930 Kansans and infected more than 300,000. KDHE reported 483 new cases and no new deaths on Monday.

The agency has detected the U.K. variant in several Kansas counties, as well as the South Africa variant in Finney County and Brazil variant in Sedgwick County. Preliminary studies indicate the vaccines may be less effective against these more contagious variants.

Norman said their appearance in Kansas emphasizes the need to continue anti-contagion practices of wearing a mask and social distancing.

“I think of this as a road race between the vaccination of the normal strain of the virus and these variants that are out there,” Norman said.

The CDC statement said the severe blood clots were reported in six women between the ages of 18 and 48, six to 13 days after vaccination. The cases are considered rare because more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine have been administered in the United States.

A spokeswoman for KDHE said none of the reports of blood clots were associated with Kansas.

KU Health’s David Wild said these blood clots are different from the typical blood clots in legs that people might be familiar with. The case studies showed the Johnson and Johnson vaccine caused blood clots at the skull base, in people’s sinuses. Symptoms could include headache and sinus pressure.

“We’ll understand more as we dive into it, but I think it will be important to separate out, at this point at least, this is not looking like those symptoms of normal blood clots, those that we think about in legs for all those reasons that we’re so familiar with,” Wild said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.