North Carolina has 85,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines it will offer to people who had been scheduled to receive a single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine starting Tuesday, state health officials said in an afternoon news conference.

In response to federal guidance it received Tuesday morning to stop administering J&J doses over concerns of six rare cases of serious blood clots, the state Department of Health and Human Services swiftly told providers to offer a different vaccine or reschedule appointments to prospective J&J recipients.

Less than 7% of the nearly 3.7 million people at least partially vaccinated in North Carolina have gotten a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Experts and health officials don't want Tuesday's development to discourage already reluctant people from getting the vaccine.

If anything, they say the public should have more confidence in the system, particularly with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have not seen similar issues as J&J and have been administered since December 2020 — more than two months before Johnson & Johnson's vaccine received approval from U.S. regulators.

“The safety system in place is working as it should,” said Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's top public health official. “These adverse events appear to be extremely rare.”

The six severe blood clotting cases represent a microscopic share of the more than 7.1 million people who have gotten a J&J vaccine nationwide, according to the latest CDC data.

North Carolina's 85,000 Pfizer and Moderna replacement doses will draw mostly from existing supply that went unused last week.

Cohen urged people who received a J&J vaccine in the past three weeks to contact their health care provider if they experienced severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath three days after they were inoculated. Temporary reactions and minor symptoms, such as achiness, are common shortly after vaccination and a sign the shot is working as it should.

Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease expert with Duke Health, told reporters Tuesday that he is happy to pivot to Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as the federal government reviews the clotting cases associated with the J&J vaccine, but called the single-dose shots “a valuable part of our arsenal” because of their ability to be more easily stored and administered to people less likely to return for a second shot.

David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC Health who oversees a pair of vaccination clinics, worries the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration's recommendation for states to halt J&J vaccinations could prove to be an overreaction that and contribute to increased vaccine hesitancy, particularly in pockets of North Carolina where supply has begun to outpace demand.

“Maybe the greatest side effect of what we'll see from this is maybe more hesitancy and more skepticism,” Wohl said. “I do think we have to try to control that. There very well may be people who say, ‘See, I told you so. There's problems.' But really put this in context. These are very, very few cases."

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