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May 8, 2021

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Clark County Public Health: J&J vaccine pause no crisis

Official says halt on use won’t set back vaccinations

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Clark County Public Health does not expect the county’s vaccination rollout to be altered much after Washington’s decision Tuesday morning to indefinitely halt use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Clark County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Steve Krager, the county has not received much Johnson & Johnson vaccine to date, and there was already an expected drop-off in that brand of vaccine across the U.S. because of manufacturing issues.

U.S. federal health agencies called for an indefinite halt to the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday morning, after six women experienced rare blood clots within three weeks of receiving a dose from that brand. One woman died, and another has been hospitalized.

Later Tuesday morning, Washington decided to halt use of the vaccine.

Krager said he is not aware of any of these blood clot side effects taking place in Clark County.

So far, Clark County has been allocated around 12,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Public Health has administered 1,078 of those doses.

The overall number of doses administered by medical providers, pharmacies and other facilities was not available at a Public Health press briefing held Tuesday morning.

Lower volume

More than 210,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Clark County, with at least 94 percent of those doses being Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTec, the two most commonly used COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.

“It’s been a significant chunk of our vaccination process but not as much as Moderna and Pfizer,” Krager said.

Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines received approval for use before Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which was granted emergency authorization use in late February.

Because of a later rollout and manufacturing setbacks, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has been allocated to states at a much lower volume than the country’s two other vaccines.

Washington has administered close to 150,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and has administered more than 4 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose inoculation, whereas Moderna and Pfizer require two doses, spaced apart. Because of that, and the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easy to store, it has often been used for harder-to-reach populations such as those who live in rural areas or those who are homebound.

Krager said one local Public Health vaccination pod that was being planned for this weekend will not happen now because of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause. That particular weekend vaccine drive had not been formalized yet, so no appointments had been made.

Krager said this pause gives him confidence in the vaccine safety systems in place. He said there have been 6.8 million people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson, and only six have experienced blood clots.

It’s unlikely that Tuesday’s decision will have much of an effect on the county’s rollout, which will make anyone older than 16 eligible on Thursday.

For the time being, Public Health will store 2,200 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses for later use, and Public Health is asking medical providers to do the same with any unused Johnson & Johnson vaccines they have.

Krager said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine might be available for use again in the near future once the blood clots have been further researched and regulators have a better sense of any risks associated with the vaccine.

It’s possible that research will conclude any risks from the vaccine are far less likely than risks from COVID-19, which has killed more than 560,000 people in the U.S.

“This is a pause to evaluate and gather information,” Krager said. “It doesn’t mean we are not going to use any Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the future.”

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