Facebook Twitter

Governor says COVID-19 vaccine pause may mean ‘more people will die’

Utah leader fears rare blood clot cases could increase vaccine hesitancy

SHARE Governor says COVID-19 vaccine pause may mean ‘more people will die’

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during the PBS Utah Governor’s Monthly News Conference at the Eccles Broadcast Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday he’s concerned “more people will die” as a result of the pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine put in place earlier this week after a few rare cases of blood clots were reported in other parts of the country.

“I am fearful that this will have seriously negative connotations with people who are hesitant to get the vaccine in the first place, who are looking for a reason not to want to get the vaccine,” the governor said during his monthly news conference for Salt Lake City-based PBS Utah.

Cox said if that happens, “then more people will die because of this decision to push pause on the vaccine than would have been impacted by the repercussions of this blood-clotting issue,” adding that he is not a medical expert and Utah will follow the federal guidelines on using the single-dose vaccine.

He acknowledged he could be wrong about the impact of the pause and that in the end, it may be seen as “a very positive” reaction to questions about vaccine safety.

“The truth is, nobody really knows until we see it play out,” the governor said. He understands that federal authorities sought the pause “to increase belief or faith in the system.”

Utah joined other states Tuesday in pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration while the cases of six women, aged 18 to 48, whose symptoms occurred six to 13 days after getting the shot, are investigated.

A panel of experts advising the CDC asked Wednesday for more time to look for a link between the vaccine and the rare blood-clotting disorder blamed for the death of one of the six women. That could mean another seven to 10 days before there’s a recommendation on the vaccine’s use.

“It’s frustrating, to be honest,” the governor said of the pause, describing people as “really bad” at evaluating and understanding risk. He said it would “be great” to go ahead and give the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to people who aren’t similar to those who developed the blood clots after getting the shots.

“What we need to do is help Utahns and Americans understand that the risk of the virus is so much greater than the risk from these vaccines,” Cox said. None of the more than 83,000 Utahns who have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have reported blood clots and there have been no vaccine-related deaths in the state.

The six cases represent about a 1 in a million chance of developing blood clots, based on 6.8 million doses administered nationwide, the governor said, meaning people are “far more likely to be eaten by a shark or struck by lightning.”

Advertising campaigns to encourage vaccinations that are already underway are critical, Cox said.

He also announced that anyone who has had COVID-19 within the past 90 days are no longer being discouraged from getting vaccinated. Late last month, the governor made all Utahns 16 and older eligible for the shots, but those who’d had the virus were urged to wait since they had some immunity.

Thresholds to end COVID-19 restrictions set in a new law that already lifted the statewide mask mandate on April 10 — which include receiving 1.63 million first vaccine doses — are still likely to be hit soon despite the federal government suspending shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Cox said.

Utah Department of Health officials have said the state should still reach the vaccine number by mid-May, since Johnson & Johnson only accounts for about 5% of Utah’s federal allotment. COVID-19 case counts and hospitalization rates must also remain low under the law.

Masks are still required at K-12 schools, something the governor said will continue through the end of the school year in June as planned despite parent protests.

“I understand this is so hard. I would like nothing more than to be completely done with masks,” he said,

The governor said there is a lot of misinformation out there about masks and other restrictions. Some private and public entities are continuing to require face coverings even though lawmakers ended the statewide mandate put in place by then-Gov. Gary Herbert last November.

Cox said he encouraged the mask mandates but stressed there are no restrictions on gatherings other than masks must be worn in groups of 50 or more if social distancing is not possible. He said there are no state restrictions on religious organizations, although some have been voluntarily put in place to protect their congregations.

Utah’s latest COVID-19 numbers

Thursday, the state health departments reported 456 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death from the virus, a Salt Lake County woman between the ages of 45 and 64 who was hospitalized at time of her death. Utah has now had at total of 391,633 cases and 2,162 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

There have been 1,808,824 vaccine doses administered in Utah, a daily increase of 40,578.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 390 per day, and 7,124 additional Utahns have taken tests for the virus since Wednesday, and a total of 18,714 tests were reported. The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of tests is 3.7% when all results are included and 7.4% when multiple results by an individual are excluded.

Currently, 146 people are hospitalized in Utah with COVID-19.

Blood type not a factor in determining virus risk, new study finds

Also Thursday, a newly released study of more than 100,000 Intermountain Healthcare patients in Utah and other states who were tested for COVID-19 concluded blood type does not affect the risk of contracting the virus or becoming severely ill from it.

The new study published this month in JAMA Network Open and to be presented at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in May found no link between blood type and whether a patient tested positive, or required hospitalization or a stay in the intensive care unit if they had the virus.

Researchers at the region’s largest health care provider did show COVID-19 risks were higher in men, nonwhite and older patients, as well as those with preexisting medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart and lung disease.

“All of these demographic factors are consistent with what we’ve see around the world, which gives us confidence in our database and these results for blood type,” said Dr. Jeffrey L. Anderson, a cardiologist and researcher at the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute in Salt Lake City.

Anderson said previous studies from China and other countries that had reported blood type could determine whether someone was susceptible to the virus or would be more severely affected relied on smaller samples and had raised questions.

Now, the doctor said, blood type can be ruled out as a factor in those determinations.

“Knowing what your blood type is, is not something that you want to think is either going to help protect you from COVID or put you at higher risk,” he said, adding that instead, Utahns should focus on “wearing a mask, social distancing and above all, getting vaccinated.”