HealthPartners resumes dispensing J&J vaccine after regulators lift pause

Outside the HealthPartners clinic in Brooklyn Center, John Eichten was feeling pretty good.

“I feel great. Didn’t hurt, so hopefully, I’ll feel good tonight,” he said. “One and done. I’m going on vacation in a couple of weeks, so I wanted to be good to go for that.”

Eichten, an Edina resident, was among those here receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Saturday.

HealthPartners resumed dispensing the J&J vaccine from its supply of nearly 1,000 doses kept in storage during a pause ordered by federal regulators.

Kevin Lieu of Bloomington had also set up an online appointment for his shot of the vaccine.

“I feel pretty well, time will tell,” he said afterward. “You know vaccines take time to kick in and so on. For me, it was more of just fitting into my schedule, so the one-time thing.”

That pause was triggered by a condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

The Centers for Disease Control says the clotting disorder affected 15 J&J vaccine recipients, all women, most of them under 50 — including one fatal case.

Doctors say the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

“I think we have a safe vaccine,” said Dr. Mark Sannes, a HealthPartners infectious disease physician. “With some counseling regarding what the risks are, there’s a one to two in a million risk of a rare blood clot.”

The pause was lifted April 23 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for health care providers to warn patients about the risk.

Experts say those 15 cases were from a total of 8 million shots given.

"I think it’s important to put it in context,” Sannes says. “That same clot happens at a rate that’s probably 30 to 40 times greater than if a person actually has COVID. Meaning, you could get that same clot at a much higher rate, if you actually had COVID infection."

"I guess I’m glad they paused it,” Eichten said. “So they’re serious about it. But I did the math on how many people have the problem and how many shots were given, and it is miniscule."

But what about Minnesotans who’ve already gotten COVID-19 and now have antibodies? Do they need the shot?

Sannes says yes.

"We know that over 500,000 people in the state in Minnesota probably have antibodies from their positive COVID infections,” he said. “What we don’t know is what level those antibodies are at, and whether they are protected from getting a second infection."

The Minnesota Department of Health says the state’s allocation of the J&J vaccine will be a little over 12,000 doses this coming week.

M Health Fairview says it will dispense about 1,800 J&J shots starting Wednesday. Allina Health says it will likely also have a rollout this week but that plans are still being finalized.

Those who’ve gotten the one-and-done vaccine say at long last they feel relief and hope.

“Hopefully get back to normal in a few weeks here,” Eichten said.

“Yeah, I think there could be light at the end of the tunnel if everyone does their part,” Lieu added. “Just try to keep the mask on as much as possible to stay safe.”