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New York, following federal guidance, pauses J&J vaccine

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New York paused administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, after the federal Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control recommended halting the doses because a few recipients developed blood clots.

Out of the 6.8 million Americans who have already received the J&J vaccine, six women developed blood clots after receiving the doses. One died, and another was hospitalized in critical condition.

After the FDA and CDC announced the temporary halt Tuesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York state is also pausing the doses.

“We have stopped using Johnson & Johnson in this state,” Cuomo said. 

The governor spoke at an unrelated event at an apple orchard that was closed to the media and the public, and where he answered no questions about the vaccine delay. Cuomo said there are enough alternative doses available for state-run vaccination sites to continue.

“We do have enough Pfizer and we do have enough Moderna vaccination to keep our schedule,” he said.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker advised anyone who received a J&J dose and develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination to contact their doctor. But Zucker said adverse effects after the vaccine are “extremely rare.”

While the delay won’t affect the state’s mass vaccination sites for now, it will impact the State University system, which had planned on using 21,000 J&J doses to vaccinate as many students as possible before the end of the spring semester.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, speaking at an event in Syracuse, said the pause will affect those plans.

“Today was a little bit of a curveball for us," Malatras said.

He said SUNY is working with the state to locate alternative vaccines, including Pfizer and Moderna, and he said no one should cancel their appointments because substitute doses have already been found in some cases.

“We liked the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, because it was one and done,” Malatras said. “It was very easy for our residential students to get one shot and then go home for the semester.”

Malatras said if the campuses have to shift to the two-dose vaccines, the process might not be finished before the semester ends in a few weeks. He said if that happens, SUNY health officials will try to make arrangements so that students can get one or both doses at home.

The vaccines are not mandatory, but Malatras left the door open for a requirement for students if enough do not get vaccinated voluntarily by the end of the summer.

The vaccination delay comes as the state continues to ramp up access to vaccine sites. Cuomo announced that the state-run site at SUNY Albany, which has been administering 2,000 shots a day, will be moved to the nearby Crossgates Mall beginning Friday. The vaccinations will be given in a recently closed Lord & Taylor department store, which has the capacity to give out 6,000 doses a day.

Federal officials hope the Johnson & Johnson pause will only last for a few days.