DOYLESTOWN >> In response to federal concerns over Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, Bucks County has postponed all appointments scheduled for April 13 and April 14 at its Warwick Square mass vaccination site.
The Warwick Square site, which opened last week, is the only one of Bucks County’s five vaccination clinics using the J&J vaccine. The county’s other four sites – at the former H&M store at Neshaminy Mall and at the three Bucks County Community College campuses in Perkasie, Newtown and Bristol – will proceed as scheduled on an appointment-only basis.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health ordered a statewide pause in use of the J&J vaccine at about 8 a.m. today, later indicating that the J&J shutdown could last until at least April 20.
The state directive came after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended the pause while it investigates a “rare and severe” type of blood clot developed by six J&J vaccine recipients. All were women between ages 18 and 48, and are the only such reports resulting from more than 6.8 million J&J doses administered in the U.S.
“We are awaiting further guidance from the federal government,” said Dr. David Damsker, director of the Bucks County Health Department. “Because of this, how we plan to proceed at the Warwick site is undetermined.”
The CDC and FDA have recommended J&J recipients to contact their healthcare providers if they develop severe headaches, abdominal or leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the vaccine. The statement said such reactions “appear to be extremely rare.”
The postponements affect about 30 percent of the 9,255 vaccination appointments that had been scheduled for today and Wednesday at Bucks County’s mass sites. They have been cancelled via email, text messaging and other means.
The pause came as Bucks and other Pennsylvania counties were gearing up for their most productive week yet of the vaccination rollout. The state health department last week distributed an unprecedented amount of vaccine to counties, much of it J&J doses.
Bucks County providers last week received 51,560 doses from the state, 45 percent of it J&J. The Bucks County Health Department received 21,000 J&J doses for use primarily at its Warwick Square site this week, while another 2,400 doses were spread among seven hospitals and pharmacies.
Fortunately, the county health department also received a robust allotment of Pfizer vaccine last week, a total of 16,380 doses. Those will be used at the county’s four unaffected mass vaccine sites, where more than 14,000 first and second doses of Pfizer are scheduled this week.
Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf committed Pennsylvania’s initial J&J allotment – more than 100,000 doses – for vaccination of teachers and school staff at county intermediate units.
But relatively little J&J vaccine has been administered by county providers. Of 790 doses administered last week during the Warwick Square site’s soft opening, less than half were J&J.
“The Bucks County Department of Health respects the CDC’s and FDA’s recommendations. However, we also understand the inconvenience this has caused patients scheduled at the Warwick location,” Damsker said. “Decisions on how we continue clinics at this location are dependent on further instructions from federal agencies. As soon as there is an update, we will announce our plan for moving forward.”