New York will resume using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine immediately, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Saturday, hours after the federal government lifted an 11-day "pause" on J&J inoculations following reports of rare blood clots linked to them.
Nassau County and New York City also will again administer the J&J vaccine, officials said. Suffolk County officials did not respond to questions about resuming J&J vaccinations.
Cuomo said in a statement that "world-renowned public health experts from the federal government and our own independent state task force have reviewed the data and reaffirmed that the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can resume. The state of New York will resume administration of this vaccine at all of our state-run sites effective immediately."
The state also reported that the seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate on Friday dipped to its lowest level since Nov. 9, and that hospitalizations fell below 3,300 for the first time since Nov. 27.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration ended the pause on the J&J vaccine Friday night, shortly after a CDC advisory committee voted 10-4 to recommend resumption with a warning about the very small potential for blood clots. The four who voted 'no' favored resumption but with stronger measures to warn about risks, the panel's chairman said.
"The data has shown the vaccine's known benefits far outweigh the potential and extremely rare risks," State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement. "But we urge anyone with questions about the COVID-19 vaccines to speak with their health care provider."
Fifteen women, most under age 50, developed blood clots out of nearly 8 million people in the United States given the J&J shot, federal officials said. Three died and seven remain hospitalized.
COVID-19 and everyday medications, such as birth control pills, also can cause blood clots, advisory committee members said.
The one-shot J&J vaccine is seen as especially helpful in inoculating homebound residents, homeless people, rural residents, jail inmates, college students planning to leave campus for summer break, and others for whom two shots weeks apart pose logistical challenges.
The other two authorized vaccines, from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, require two doses. They are made differently than the J&J vaccine, and neither has been linked to blood clot risks.
Use at mass vaccination sites
Nassau had suspended its homebound vaccination program while federal and state officials were reviewing the J&J vaccine, County Executive Laura Curran said in an interview.
"I’m very happy the pause was lifted and we can vaccinate our homebound folks," she said.
The vaccine also will be used with homeless people and with jail inmates, among others, Curran said. It will be used at mass vaccination sites if there's enough supply, she said; it had been scheduled to be administered at Nassau Coliseum on April 13, the day the pause was announced, and some doses had been given there before that. Production problems had caused a sharp drop in J&J vaccine shipments before the pause was announced.
Curran said it’s not clear when the first post-pause J&J shots will be administered in Nassau, because appointments for the inoculations must be made first. Residents know when they sign up for inoculations which vaccine they'll be receiving, she said.
Nassau has 230 J&J doses left over from the pause, and more are expected to arrive in the coming days or weeks, county spokeswoman Christine Geed said.
Curran said that giving residents a choice of three vaccines is especially important now, when appointments are much easier to obtain than several weeks ago.
"Now we’re at the point where we have appointments that are going unfilled," with the county turning to social media to get people to sites to use the extra doses, she said.
Many of those who remain unvaccinated might be less enthusiastic about vaccines than those already inoculated, and prioritizing convenience, she said.
"We want to make sure we’re accommodating everyone," Curran said. "If they want the Johnson & Johnson, and they want the one dose, I’m very happy we’re able to supply that now, if that’s their preference."
De Blasio touts J&J vaccine
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that in New York City, the J&J vaccine will be used for homebound residents, with mobile bus and van programs and in pop-up sites such as houses of worship.
"I received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine along with our Health Commissioner Dr. Chokshi," the mayor said in a statement, referring to Dr. Dave Chokshi. "We know firsthand that the vaccine is safe and effective."
Cuomo also received the J&J vaccine.
Amid preparations for the resumption of J&J inoculations, Cuomo announced in a statement Saturday that nearly 1.2 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been administered in the past week.
In Nassau County, nearly a half-million residents are now fully vaccinated. More than half the population — 684,113 people — has received at least one dose.
Suffolk's vaccination rates remain lower. Just over 43% of the population — 641,439 people — has gotten at least one dose, and nearly 440,000 residents are fully vaccinated.
Positivity rate, hospitalizations fall
The state's seven-day positivity rate Friday dipped to 2.27%. Long Island's positivity rate fell to 2.42%, the same as New York City's — although some experts maintain that New York State's method of calculating rates, which is different from most other states, understates positivity numbers.
Hospitalizations fell to 3,294, according to state data.
Forty more New Yorkers died of the disease Friday, including two in Suffolk County.
Of the 4,164 positive coronavirus test results released Friday, 325 were in Suffolk and 283 were in Nassau.
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