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Relief Telemed nurse Jerre Hinds gives a Moderna coronavirus vaccine at a pop-up vaccination event, Thursday, April 1, 2021, at The Greater Mt. Canaan Baptist Church on Evangeline Street in Baton Rouge, La.

Major COVID-19 vaccine providers in the Baton Rouge area plan to use other shots and pause administering those developed by Johnson & Johnson after federal health regulators on Tuesday called for the temporary halt of their use while they investigate rare side effects from the single-dose inoculation.

The decision comes after the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration urged distributors to suspend the Johnson & Johnson shot as the agencies investigate potentially dangerous blood clots that six people in other states reportedly experienced after they received the vaccine.

Nearly 7 million doses of the J&J shot have been given nationally. In Louisiana, they only account for less than 4% of doses, according to state health officials.

Plans for a federally backed mass vaccination center in Baton Rouge capable of delivering up to 3,000 shots per day won’t be impacted unless the J&J stoppage lasts for several weeks, officials say. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock indicated Tuesday it could last for a matter of days, but the timeline was unclear.

The center had planned to use the vaccines made by Pfizer for the first six weeks before switching to Johnson & Johnson's single-shot version. The FDA commissioner said she expected the pause on the J&J vaccines to last a matter of days.

Dr. Joe Kanter, Louisiana’s chief health officer, said the site could be impacted if the pause continues after six weeks.

Shortly after the joint state and federal announcement, Ochsner, Baton Rouge General, Woman’s Hospital and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center said they will instead use the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines until further notice.

"Safety continues to be the top priority as we expand vaccine distribution to as many as possible in the fight against COVID-19," Our Lady of the Lake Chief Medical Director Dr. Steven Gremillion said.

Federal allocation of the J&J vaccine has been only a trickle for Louisiana clinics and hospitals in recent weeks compared to the other shots.

At Our Lady of the Lake, for example, the doses only make up a marginal number of vaccines administered. At Baton Rouge General, clinicians haven’t used any of the 1,000 single-shot doses it received recently.

“We have a ton of vaccine; I wish more people were signing up,” Our Lady of the Lake Chief Medical Officer Dr. Catherine O’Neal said, adding that people can get a shot within 24 hours of signing up.

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She said federal monitoring of the vaccines has been far more intense than past programs that scrutinize safety. O’Neal also speculated that because vaccines create an immune response, there could be parallels between blood clots seen in COVID-19 patients and the vaccine.

Ochsner said Tuesday it also plans to shift to the other two vaccines, which use a different technology than Johnson & Johnson's.

"The safety of our patients and community is our highest priority," the health system said in a statement. "While we have not seen any of our patients experience this type of reaction, we took immediate action upon learning of this guidance."

The health chain said it also has an adequate supply of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and had no upcoming public vaccine events using Johnson & Johnson shots in Baton Rouge.

Those shots, however, require two doses to be fully effective. Johnson & Johnson is the only single-dose vaccine currently authorized in the United States.

CareSouth Medical and Dental said it will use Moderna's vaccine at its public clinic on Friday at their Baton Rouge facility.

“With patient safety being our number one concern, we will adhere to the recommendation from the CDC and the FDA,” CareSouth CEO Matthew Valliere said in a statement. “We will continue to be a resource to anyone seeking a COVID-19 vaccination.”

The event is still scheduled to take place from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., and people can sign up by appointment.

As other vaccine providers switch to other shots, West Baton Rouge Parish health officials canceled a mass vaccination event that was set to take place Thursday in Port Allen and use Johnson & Johnson doses.

Staff writer Sam Karlin contributed to this report.


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