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Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause could hurt underserved communities

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine pause caught many providers off guard. Now, many have thousands of doses sitting on shelves while they wait for health officials to announce the next steps.

“It’s been a challenging week because every vaccine provider was taken aback when the announcement came out about Johnson & Johnson,” said Dr. Yen-Chi Le, the director of Innovation & Evaluations for UT Physicians Healthcare Transformation Initiatives.

Le said the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has been critical for immunizing underserved communities since it only requires one dose. This week, she said UT Physicians had to pivot last minute, offering the Pfizer vaccine at an outreach event instead of the J&J vaccine.

“Given that some people have to take off work to get vaccinated, using Johnson & Johnson would have only made them take off one day of work instead of two,” she said.

Even if the pause is temporary, some worry it will have lasting effects on people who are already hesitant about the shots.

“We’re reaching the point where many people who want to be vaccinated have been vaccinated. The ones who are less sure, less confident, are the ones we need to outreach to,” Le said.

Dr. Maria Rivera, with Harris County Public Health, said a small number of people canceled their vaccination appointments after federal health officials announced several cases of blood clots among women who got the J&J vaccine.

“We have seen a little bit of a drop-off, but I think this is something being seen across the country, not just in Harris County. I think there are some concerns in general about the vaccines. The message we’re trying to send is the vaccines are still very safe, they’re still effective,” Rivera said.

Rivera said the county has 55,000 doses of J&J on standby but they have enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses available. No appointments have been canceled.

“Even for our homebound programs, instead of doing one visit, we’re now going to do two visits. We’re still committed to our vulnerable populations, but now it’ll be a two-dose series,” Rivera said.

Several vaccine hubs said the Johnson & Johnson pause will not have a noticeable effect on vaccinations. Supply has gotten to the point where there’s almost no wait time for people who want shots.

Source: www.khou.com