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Two vaccination sites close after adverse reactions to Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Officials stress that the reactions fell within the normal range and found "no cause for concern."

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

(Photo by Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)(Photo by Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)

Americans are getting COVID-19 vaccinations at a steady clip, but national inoculation efforts hit a snag this week as two different vaccination sites, one in North Carolina and one in Colorado, shut down temporarily after an abnormal number of adverse reactions to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to CBS News, 11 people at a vaccine site at Dick's Sporting Goods in Commerce City, Colorado, experienced adverse side effects ranging from dizziness to nausea. The site is run by Centura Health, which told CBS on Thursday that the site closure was a temporary measure taken so officials could investigate further.

At this point there's no reason to believe there's something wrong with the vaccine itself.

Nine people who experienced an adverse reaction were monitored on-site and sent home, according to CBS Denver. In total, about 640 patients were unable to receive their scheduled vaccine on Wednesday. Those appointments have been rescheduled for April 11 at the same location. Centura medical experts said the symptoms were in line with typical reactions.

The North Carolina site closed on Thursday after patients there reported similar reactions.

Colorado public health officials said Thursday they found no sign of a problem with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Denver Post reported. Officials said there was no cause for concern after reviewing patients' symptoms and analyzing other vaccinations from the same lot. 

The Food and Drug Administration also investigated, checking with other locations that had used Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the same batch, and didn't find any reactions it deemed "unusual."

The site at Dick's Sporting Goods followed proper protocols, the FDA said, though the agency promised to conduct an "after-action" analysis to determine if there are any actions that could prevent future incidents.

Unused vaccine doses from the Colorado site are being sequestered while the state investigates.

Mass vaccination sites in Colorado have administered more than 6,000 Johnson & Johnson shots since Monday, and no adverse reactions were reported Monday or Tuesday.

About 86,000 people in Colorado have been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson offering, while 1.2 million Coloradans in total have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna shots.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

News of the closures could sow doubt about COVID-19 vaccines at a time when they're thought to be key in achieving the herd immunity needed to end the pandemic. That would create challenges for providers who are already strapped in terms of personnel, equipment and beds.

The development also comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 85% fewer doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will go out next week compared to this week. That's a drop from 4.9 million to about 700,000.

The drop is unrelated to any adverse reactions. Rather, The Hill reports that Johnson & Johnson had experienced uneven manufacturing of its product, with a plant error in Baltimore at the end of March leading to 15 million doses being ruined.

Nationally, about five million Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered to date. That compares to about 90 million for Pfizer and 80 million for Moderna.

THE LARGER TREND

The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned at least three known variants of the coronavirus that cause the disease, but a study this month from the National Institutes of Health offers some encouragement: Those who have been vaccinated, or who have had a previous infection, have immune systems that can fend off these new strains.

The variants emerged in late 2020 in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil, and each has a significantly higher amount of amino acid polymorphisms than the base virus – meaning, in effect, that they're more virulent and can cause a more severe response. 

Luckily, the South African strain is the only one to date that has made protein- and Adenovirus-based vaccines slightly less effective, and even then the vaccines were still shown to prevent further disease progression.

Meanwhile, AstraZeneca is looking to get in on the vaccine game. While data released in March showed 79% efficacy, the company was criticized for possibly using outdated information in its clinical trial, potentially providing an incomplete view of the efficacy data.

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com