Local News

Local clinics switch to Moderna, Pfizer vaccines as docs caution against overreaction to J&J news

Posted April 13, 2021 5:34 a.m. EDT
Updated April 14, 2021 6:22 a.m. EDT

A clinic at N.C. Central University and dozens of others across the state offering Johnson & Johnson vaccines have switched to Pfizer and Moderna while the U.S. investigates potential health risks.

The clinic, located at 1450 S. Alston Avenue in Durham, has dozens of appointments available between 10:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday. Adults 18 and older can sign up online to receive the Moderna vaccine.

A clinic also opens at 8 a.m. at Corinth Holders High School in Wendell, where no appointment is required. Teenagers 16 and older are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine, which is available at other locations.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccine clinics nationwide temporarily stop administering the single-dose vaccine out of an "abundance of caution" after a handful of women reported rare, but dangerous, blood-clotting disorders two weeks after receiving their shots. One of the six women who reported having clots died, and a second was hospitalized in critical condition.

Although experts in North Carolina agreed with the move, they cautioned against people overreacting to it and worried about increased skepticism and hesitancy about getting vaccinated.

"This is literally one in a million," Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said of the instances of blood clots. "It is incredibly, incredibly rare."

"We knew there would be risks [to vaccines]. You can't get away scot-free," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert with UNC Health. "With over 125 million people administered COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, we're going to find the very, very rare adverse event."

"It's also probably important to put that risk into the context of where we are in the pandemic, and balance that risk against ongoing recognition that we still have lots of people – in fact, an uptick in many parts of the country – coming down with COVID," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert with the Duke University Health System.

Cohen, Wohl and Wolfe said the nationwide pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine demonstrates that the safety system in the U.S. works, and they said they hope it's not misinterpreted as a signal that people should distrust the coronavirus vaccines.

"There very well may be people who say, 'See, I told you so. There's problems.' But really put this in context," Wohl said. "We do know that these vaccines – all three of them – work, that they prevent people from dying and getting hospitalized."

Both he and Wolfe noted that hundreds of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also developed blood clots from the virus.

Cohen said about 242,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered statewide so far, with no reports of serious health issues.

Last week, some clinics temporarily halted using the vaccine in their clinics after some people reported adverse reactions, such as dizziness or nausea. But after the CDC called the vaccine safe, the clinics resumed on Monday.

Wolfe said overcoming that rapid back and forth on the vaccine's safety will be a challenge, but that's what faces public health officials.

"We're a long way away from herd immunity," he said. "I don't want to be sitting here in 12 months in a position where we still face ... more [hospital] admissions and deaths than we need to."

Anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than a couple of weeks ago and hasn't had any problems doesn't need to worry about it, said Cohen, who received the one-shot vaccine in early March. She urged anyone experiencing difficulty breathing' leg pain, a severe headache or abdominal pain within days of getting vaccinated to call a doctor.

With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on hold, clinics statewide are shifting to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Cohen said. The state has about 85,000 available doses between those two vaccines and is expecting more to arrive in the next day or two, she said.

State officials are working with providers to help reschedule any appointments at clinics that were supposed to give Johnson & Johnson shots, she said. Other providers are merely swapping that vaccine out for one of the others.

Officials urged people to try to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"The vast benefits of these vaccines so far really, really outweigh any risks," Wohl said.

Wake County already planned to use the Pfizer vaccine for a drive-thru clinic outside the PNC Arena on Wednesday.

But the Cape Fear Valley Health System in Fayetteville had to cancel Wednesday and Friday clinics where about 2,400 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine were to be administered.

Chris Tart, vice president of professional services for Cape Fear Valley Health, said the hospital system has seen appointments for Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations lag because people didn't want to deal with getting a second shot.

"It does damper on our efforts with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because there's already some hesitancy in the community about receiving the vaccine," Tart said. "A lot of folks were waiting for the one-dose approach so you could get one dose and be vaccinated versus having to get two."

Cape Fear Valley Health has access to plenty of Pfizer vaccine doses and can accommodate people if they schedule appointments, officials said.

Like Johnson & Johnson, the AstraZeneca vaccine has come under scrutiny after a small number of people in Europe reported having blood clots after their shots.

Joshua Boyles got the AstraZeneca vaccine when he was living in the U.K., and he said Tuesday that he believes the vaccine is worth the risk.

"I feel like the numbers aren’t big enough to make you say no," Boyles said. "If you’ve got a choice, it’s your choice. Make the choice of which one you can do. The choice of whether or not to get it should be off the table."

But it is for some people.

"If you’re releasing anything that has side-effects, it's not really ready to be released unless you know who it’s going to affect," said a man who identified himself only as Brandon.

"[The vaccine is] not for me," he added. "I’ve never had the flu. I’ve never had the flu shot. I’m going to stick with that."

"I'm old [and] ain't got too many years anyway. I don’t believe I'm going to take it. I'm just scared of it," Ron Hollifield agreed.

WRAL reporters Amanda Lamb and Gilbert Baez contributed to this report.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.