Amid Johnson & Johnson concerns, L.A. opens COVID-19 vaccines to residents 16 and up

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The city of Los Angeles on Tuesday opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older — the same day federal health officials urged a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after reports of serious blood clots.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended pausing the use of the one-dose vaccine after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed a “rare and severe” blood clot within two weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officials said.

In light of the development, the city paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines until further notice, officials said, noting that any previous appointments made Tuesday would be honored with another vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved for people 18 and older.

The news arrived as city-run sites opened eligibility to all residents 16 and older, days ahead of the state. Previously, all Californians age 50 and up were eligible, as well as those with qualifying medical conditions.

City-run sites are operating at Dodger Stadium, Hansen Dam Recreation Area, Crenshaw Christian Center, USC, San Fernando Park, Lincoln Park and Pierce College. The city this week also took over the operation of the vaccine site at Cal State L.A. from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccines will not affect permanent city sites, but will alter plans to provide about 3,000 scheduled vaccinations through the city’s mobile MOVE clinics, officials said Tuesday.

“All appointments at our permanent sites will happen as planned, and the City’s MOVE clinics will honor the appointments for anyone scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with a first dose of Pfizer as we await further information from health officials,” Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office said in a statement, adding that the city this week received nearly 60,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 56,000 dozes of the Pfizer vaccine, “neither of which is affected by this pause.”

Residents in the newly eligible group reacted to developments with mixed emotions.

“Blood clots are certainly concerning, and there were bound to be complications with vaccines due to the accelerated development cycle,” West Hollywood resident Rachel Thompson, 38, said Tuesday. Thompson used the city’s Carbon Health site to secure an appointment for a Pfizer vaccine at the city’s Lincoln Park site Wednesday.

“I’m confident the issues will be resolved,” she said, adding that she was still pleased about the increased eligibility in the city. “It’s a great step toward a safer L.A. and a hopeful return to normalcy.”

L.A. County, along with the rest of California, is slated to expand eligibility Thursday to residents 16 and older. The county said Tuesday it would pause the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines “out of an abundance of caution,” and noted that vaccine providers in the county will contact patients about rescheduling or providing a new appointment for an alternative vaccine.

The state also paused distribution of the vaccine Tuesday, but noted the loss of those doses should not affect plans to roll out vaccines to those 16 and older this week.

“California is following the FDA and CDC’s recommendation and has directed healthcare providers to pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until we receive further direction from health and safety experts,” state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said.

“Additionally, the state will convene the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup to review the information provided by the federal government on this issue. As the federal government has said, we do not expect a significant impact to our vaccination allocations. In California, less than 4% of our vaccine allocation this week is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

Even before the pause, California was running into supply issues with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and was bracing for an 88% drop in delivery of J&J doses statewide this week.

To date, providers throughout California have administered 23 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, and 38.8% of residents have received at least one shot, according to the CDC.

Almost 875,000 Johnson & Johnson doses have been administered statewide, federal data show.

Despite the pause, the other two other vaccines remain available for most residents in the newly eligible group. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for people 16 years old and up, while the Moderna vaccine is approved for those 18 and older.

“I’m so happy the city decided to open eligibility to 16-plus,” said Hollywood resident Missy Vernier, 26, who secured an appointment at Crenshaw Christian Center on Thursday.

After learning of the Johnson & Johnson news Tuesday morning, Vernier said she was “glad that the government is serious about vaccinations and the public’s safety.”

Times staff writers Luke Money and Chris Megerian contributed to this report.

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