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VA halts J&J vaccine clinics after federal pause issued

With the federal pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over rare but potentially fatal blood clots, the Department of Veterans Affairs is halting their use of the vaccine based on FDA and Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

The Finger Lakes VA system administered nearly 1,000 J&J vaccines. That included pop-up clinics in Rochester for veterans at risk of homelessness. 

According to a joint statement by the FDA and CDC, of the more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine administered in the nation, six cases emerged of a rare, severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the vaccine. 

That’s about 0.0000009% of all U.S residents who received the vaccine who became ill with this rare symptom. All cases occurred among women between 18 and 48 years old with symptoms happening within one to two weeks after the shot.

In each case, the type of blood clot -- cerebral venous sinus thrombosis -- was combined with low levels of blood platelets, according to Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research and Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the CDC. 

Both Marks and Schuchat said that treating this specific type of blood clot is different than is typical. Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. However in these cases, alternative treatments are needed as heparin could be dangerous.

In a statement, the VA said anyone who develops symptoms after vaccination should talk to their doctor and share their vaccination history, or call 911 immediately if symptoms are severe.

Though they will not offer the one-dose J&J vaccine, the VA will still offer the Moderna vaccine to veterans, their spouses, and caregivers as part of the SAVE LIVES Act.

For additional information or to schedule a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine appointment, individuals can contact their local VA office:

Bath: 607-664-4626

Canandaigua: 585-393-7401, option 3, 

Rochester Calkins Road Clinic: 585-463-2757, option 3.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.