SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois public health officials are following the lead of federal authorities by suspending use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 while a potentially deadly side-effect is investigated.
The state Public Health Department reported Monday it has notified providers throughout the state to temporarily stop use of the vaccine upon the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
U.S. officials reported six cases of a severe blood clot in people who have received the J&J vaccine. One death has been reported.
The state has a relatively small number of Johnson & Johnson doses on hand and fewer expected in next week’s delivery. Chicago, with its separate delivery system, postponed until at least next week 13,000 shots of the one-dose J&J vaccine scheduled for this week. At Chicago State University’s vaccination site, shots of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine would be substituted for planned J&J doses, officials said.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who suffered no side effects after receiving the J&J vaccine March 24 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds mass vaccination site, said in a tweet Tuesday that the state would send 50,000 doses of vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna to Chicago to help supply during the next week. He promised another 50,000 in several weeks when it’s time for recipients to get the second of those two-shot vaccines.
"As cases climb across the country, I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible," Pritzker tweeted a day after he opened vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, urged patience amid concern about the shot stoppage at a time when vaccine reluctance is waning and some are more confident about the vaccines’ safety.
"We want to fully understand these rare (adverse) events and be able to make sure that all of the recommendations that we make about vaccine are based in the best science with safety and efficacy first and foremost," Arwady said.
More than 47,000 Chicago residents have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The pause comes at a critical time in the nation’s campaign against coronavirus illness. Several states, particularly in the upper Midwest, have experienced yet another surge in the number of confirmed and probable cases of the potentially deadly, flu-like illness.
Michigan’s situation has become so critical, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged residents to scale back social interaction and she supported experts’ call for Washington to deliver extra vaccine. But the CDC director said the best way to handle the state’s crisis is to "close things down" like during the pandemic’s early days in spring 2020.
Illinois has also experienced another uptick. Tuesday’s number of newly reported infections was 3,193, with 17 additional deaths. Overall, COVID-19 has claimed 21,540 lives in Illinois among 1.29 million cases. But in the past week, an average 133,000 doses of vaccine have been administered daily for a total of 7.34 million shots. That number doesn’t represent fully vaccinated residents.
Among the fresh cases was an unidentified member of House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch’s staff. The infection was discovered Tuesday during routine testing for work in the Capitol, according to Welch spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll. She said quarantines have been imposed for anyone who was in contact with the staffer, a group exclusive of Welch. The Hillside Democrat contracted COVID-19 last fall but has since fully recovered.
It’s yet to be seen whether the halt in Johnson & Johnson shots will effect the state’s ramped-up vaccination schedule. Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said vaccine providers would substitute other vaccines or reschedule shots.
The bulk of the vaccines distributed in Illinois are the two-dose variety manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna. There were 17,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson delivered to Illinois this week. Officials expect more than 480,000 doses of vaccine next week, of which 5,800 are scheduled to be from Johnson & Johnson.
The state health department said J&J vaccine recipients who suffer headache, abdominal or leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the shot should contact a health care provider.