J&J vaccine on pause
ELLSWORTH — Despite a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine announced the morning of April 13, over 900,000 vaccinations against COVID-19 had gone into the arms of Maine residents as of Tuesday. This means more than one out of three Mainers who are eligible for vaccination are now fully vaccinated and 46 percent have received a first dose, Dr. Nirav Shah, executive director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reported.
However, the announcement of rare blood clots in six of the 6.8 million people nationwide who have received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine caused the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to pause in administering the vaccine. The traditional treatment for blood clots, Shah said, worsens this particular type and health-care workers must be advised on appropriate treatment.
None of the six people who developed blood clots following the J&J vaccine are from Maine. All are women between 18 and 48 years of age, and all experienced the blood clots between six and 13 days after being vaccinated.
Maine received 20,600 doses of the J&J vaccine last week and another 2,500 this week. “I know a lot of them were used,” Shah said, noting the exact percentage was not known.
In Hancock County, Hannaford pharmacies were selected to administer the J&J vaccine, but The American could not verify the exact number provided by press time. In addition, Northern Light postponed an April 21 clinic at the Sedgwick Fire Station where the J&J vaccine was scheduled to be administered.
Unlike the fatigue, muscle aches and a sore arm that many experience after vaccination, the symptoms of the blood clot are severe, Shah said, “severe being the operative term.” They include headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain and shortness of breath.
The J&J vaccine was highly anticipated because it requires only one shot, unlike the two doses required by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It also does not have the same stringent temperature storage requirements, making it easier to reach rural and underserved populations. However, the state’s new mobile unit can also accommodate the Moderna vaccine and will still operate.
Those who have appointments to receive the J&J vaccine should hear from providers and should make new appointments, Shah advised. “I know this raises concerns and it raises questions,” he said.
For many who are hesitant to get vaccinated, the news will do little to lessen their concerns. For others, it may mean difficulty in finding an open appointment.
Appointments hinge on vaccine availability. At the recently opened Northern Light mass vaccination clinic in Ellsworth, which is not using the J&J vaccine, appointments have been canceled and changed.
“With the move to our new clinic location, we did need to change the date of several vaccination appointments,” Communications Director Kelley Columber said, noting that the clinic can only schedule appointments when it is assured of receiving vaccines.
However, this Saturday, the clinic plans to administer 693 doses, of which 500 are first doses. “[We] haven’t yet received information regarding our supply for next week,” Columber said.
For everyone, everywhere, Shah emphasized, “Keep signing up for vaccines as quickly as you can. We still have cases.”
The positivity rate is rising across the state, with 3.1 percent positive cases reported for every 100,000 PCR tests administered. Some cases are driven by the new variants that “at a minimum are more contagious,” Shah said. “We’ve seen some of those variants cause more outbreaks, which generate more cases ongoing.” Concerning is the recent increase in hospitalizations in the last two days, he said.
Governor Janet Mills said the pause in administering the J&J vaccine will not change plans to relax pandemic restrictions in Maine announced late in March.
“Maine people have adapted countless times throughout the pandemic,” she said. “This is one more time.”