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Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause to continue until federal guidance changes

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced Friday the hold on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will continue until a federal recommendation is made to lift it.

Check out all of our COVID-19 vaccine coverage here.

On Wednesday, a federal review by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices ended with a recommendation to continue the pause while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigates the potential link between vaccinations and blood clotting. The committee will meet again next Friday, April 23.

DHS is advising anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to monitor for a number of symptoms for up to three weeks after their vaccine. They include: severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath.

Malia Jones, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UW-Madison, has specialized her research on vaccine hesitancy. Jones said while there's legitimate reason to worry the pause will increase skepticism of all vaccines, she believes federal officials still made the wise decision.

"I do think they made the right call," Jones said. "This is the typical procedure when something like this arises and one of the things to know here is we do see very rare side effects from vaccines. This is not something totally out of left field."

Jones said while there could be an impact on vaccine hesitancy, it might be hard to detect in the short-term because, for the most part, vaccinators are still able to find people seeking the doses they have.

"We are still at a point where the demand for vaccines exceeds the supply," Jones said. "So, we're still seeing people mostly complaining they can't get an appointment, they have to drive a really long way to get an appointment, which says demand is still out there."

According to the DHS COVID-19 dashboard, 38.5 percent of eligible Wisconsinites have received one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines while 25.8 percent had completed the vaccine series, including those who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson version.

More than 161,000 residents have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Jones said it's worth considering the pause as an indicator safeguards are in place for the vaccine rollout. With six reported cases of severe blood clots out of nearly seven million vaccinations nationwide, Jones said it may have been extremely unlikely for the side effects to surface during initial trials.

"Vaccines, and all other drugs, do cause very serious and very rare side effects and those may not have emerged in a clinical trial with 30,000 people if it's a side effect that happens one in a million," she said.

Jones said surveys to this point indicate hesitancy is highest among rural communities that tend to lean conservative. She was hopeful the pause would eventually convince people officials are closely monitoring the vaccines' performance and were willing to act quickly at the first sign of possible trouble.

"My hope is the wait-and-see folks will ultimately find themselves reassured that there's been a thorough investigation of how common this particular side effect really is; I'm confident it'll end up being extremely uncommon," Jones said. "Quite literally, your chances of getting struck by lightning in Wisconsin are higher than having one of these rare blood clots."

Check out all of our coverage related to the coronavirus here.

Matthew Cash

Senior Executive Producer

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A. J. Bayatpour

Capitol Bureau Chief

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