City and state health officials asked San Antonio vaccine providers to halt their distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday while U.S. health agencies investigate reports of blood clots in six women who received the vaccine.

Metro Health, UT Health San Antonio, WellMed, and University Health will stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until further notice and will continue to vaccinate the public with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District said Tuesday. 

“The health and safety of our residents are top priority and Metro Health will continue to monitor this situation,” Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said. “The side effects reported are extremely rare and this pause is out of an abundance of caution. We still encourage people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and the supply for both of those is increasing rapidly.”

None of the reported incidents occurred in Texas, where more than 500,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered, according to a statement by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“The State of Texas is working in tandem with the federal government and vaccine providers to temporarily pause all administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a separate statement.

These adverse events appear to be extremely rare, U.S. health officials said in a joint statement Tuesday. As of Monday, more than 6.8 million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The six women who reported blood clots showed symptoms within six to 13 days after getting the vaccination. 

“COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously,” the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in their joint statement. “People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.” 

Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner, said the pause likely would last a matter of days.

The state has allocated 45,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Bexar County providers since March 8, Metro Health said in its statement. As of Tuesday, only an estimated 4% of the 600,000 local vaccine recipients were vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The other 96% have been vaccinated with either the Moderna or Pfizer two-dose vaccine.

The hold on Johnson & Johnson vaccinations is more an inconvenience than it is a major worry, Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) said.

“All it means is the FDA is doing their job,” Clay-Flores said. “In the grand scale, it’s only been six people out of 7 million – that’s minuscule. Nonetheless, let’s let the experts do their job. I’m confident they’ll look into it, and in the meantime [University Health] will store any unused doses. Once the FDA approves the vaccine and moves forward, we can continue with those doses as well.”

Metro Health has received a total of 7,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – 6,000 last week and 1,000 this week. Metro Health currently has 2,332 doses remaining from that allocation, according to its statement. 

WellMed said it has administered approximately 200,000 vaccination doses in Texas and Florida, about 95 percent of which have been Moderna and Pfizer. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccines allotted to Metro Health were used at community events and through a program to vaccinate homebound seniors. No doses were administered at the Alamodome vaccination site, and all appointments at local mass vaccination sites will continue as scheduled, the City said.

Metro Health is directing anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and is experiencing side effects to contact a health care provider, spokeswoman Michelle Vigil said.

Austin resident Ashlyn Brandenburg Lane said she received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in New Braunfels last week and shortly thereafter had two ocular migraines. But she was not particularly worried about further side effects.

“[I had] one two days after vaccination, and another three days after,” Lane said. “I did call my eye doctor … just now to ask if she thinks there’s anything I should do. I am a tiny bit concerned since I did have two last week on back-to-back days, but six [reports of blood clots] in 6.8 million is pretty darn rare, so I’m sure I’m good.”

Health providers recommended that anyone who is experiencing a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccination contact their health care providers. 
For more information on how to sign up to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, click here.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...