Governor addresses pause of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice joined West Virginia health leaders and other officials on Wednesday for his latest daily press briefing regarding the State’s COVID-19 response.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, during Wednesday’s briefing, Gov. Justice and state medical experts discussed their decision on Tuesday to pause all use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in West Virginia until further notice, out of an abundance of caution and upon the recommendations of the CDC and the FDA.

On Tuesday, the CDC and the FDA released a joint statement on their recommendation, which reads in part:

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine have been administered in the U.S. CDC and FDA are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the J&J vaccine. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia).

“This recommendation was based on six total cases – out of 6.8 million vaccines – of an extremely rare occurrence,” State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said during Wedneday’s briefing.

“It’s one-in-a-million,” Gov. Justice added. “I hope and pray that the Johnson & Johnson folks can get this cleaned up from the standpoint of safety because we want it to be incredibly safe. But this pause is out of an abundance of caution.”

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, through the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), has not received any reports of these extremely rare blood-clotting events in West Virginia residents who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The DHHR will continue to monitor for instances going forward.

“It is very important for you to know there has been nothing but rave reviews about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,” Gov. Justice said. “We will continue to have those vaccines available to you. We’re not going to slow up on our vaccination events; we’re going to continue to push forward. We need you to come in and get your shots.”

“These vaccines are very safe. Suffice it to say that we know that these vaccines are really responsible, primarily, for the 90% reduction in deaths that we’ve seen over the first 13 weeks of 2021 along with the reduction in hospitalizations,” Dr. Marsh said. “We know that the ultimate ending to our story here is going to be directly related to West Virginians and Americans who are going to choose to get vaccinated to protect themselves and to protect each other.

“As we get toward the number of people that will get us into that range of herd immunity – the 75% to 80%, or so, of people that would need to become vaccinated and immune – then we know that we will be able to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the variants,” Dr. Marsh continued. “The real key for us is to have all West Virginians who have not yet been vaccinated, who are eligible to be vaccinated, to please choose to do so. In doing that, we are all running to the fire, we are all taking care of each other, and we are, again, shining the light brightly from the state of West Virginia for all others to follow. So it is really a critical time, and it is up to us.”

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that FEMA is now providing financial assistance for funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020, for deaths related to COVID-19.

“The intent is to help ease some of the financial stress and burden caused by the pandemic,” Gov. Justice said.

FEMA is now accepting applications for this new COVID-19 Funeral Assistance through a dedicated call center. West Virginians who are eligible for this financial assistance should call the toll-free COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Line Number: 844-684-6333 | TTY: 800-462-7585 to apply. The assistance line is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice announced that West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has decreased once again, dropping to 5.9% for the month of March; the first time the unemployment rate has fallen below 6% since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate has declined for 11 consecutive months and is now better than the national unemployment rate.

“We’re bouncing back better than most states across our country, and we continue to show the world that, as we continue to push the right buttons in West Virginia, we’re whipping this pandemic,” Gov. Justice said. “Our people that are back to work and our economy is doing well because we built it on a very sound, solid foundation.

“We continue to be that diamond in the rough that many, many folks missed,” Gov. Justice continued.

Additionally Wednesday, Gov. Justice reported that there remain eight active church-related outbreaks in West Virginia. The active outbreaks are located in Fayette, Grant, Harrison, Kanawha, Nicholas, and Raleigh counties and account for a total of a total of 84 cases, up from 80 such cases as of the Governor’s previous COVID-19 briefing on Monday.

There remain 10 active outbreaks in long-term care facilities across the state.

The Governor also reported that there are now 61 inmate cases across the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) system, down significantly from 101 such cases on Monday. Meanwhile, there are now eight active staff cases across the DCR system, down from 11 such cases on Monday.

DCR has also been made aware that three additional inmate deaths have been confirmed as COVID-19-related. All three were male inmates who had underlying health conditions and were all hospitalized when they died. This brings the total number of confirmed COVID-19 inmate deaths to 13. There have also been two DCR staff deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Also on Wednesday, Gov. Justice provided a reminder that his Statewide Indoor Face Covering Requirement remains in effect.

All West Virginians age 9 and older to wear a face covering at all times inside all indoor public places, regardless of whether or not they are able to maintain proper social distance. The order requires that all businesses and organizations that invite the public into their facilities must post adequate signage advising guests of the requirement and are also responsible for enforcing the requirement to ensure it is being followed.

Information provided by the office of Gov. Jim Justice.