CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The request to pause Johnson and Johnson vaccinations could dampen efforts to reach herd immunity especially in rural communities where access to physical vaccination sites is more limited.
“Some of our community partners were really looking forward to using the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to get out to the smaller communities and really just get one and done,” said Dr. Robert Oliverio, a vice president with Roper St. Francis Healthcare.
Neither Roper nor the Medical University of South Carolina is using the Johnson and Johnson shot because they are able to meet the stringent handling requirements for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, Oliverio says the J&J shot was expected to be a key player in the vaccination effort.
“This was going to be an important part of our strategy to vaccinate hard to reach areas,” Oliverio said. “The best of all possible worlds is a vaccine that you can store in the fridge, is stable there, and is one shot. Johnsons and Johnson fit that bill.”
He says this development may move the finish line, but it should not be a major problem.
Dr. Krutika Kuppalli from MUSC says the pause should be treated as a good sign.
“I don’t think this is a big blow to the public health community. I actually think this is a good thing because it shows the regulatory groups are working,” Kuppalli said. “They noted a safety signal. They are being careful in putting a pause in place so they can transparently review the data to see what’s going on.”
On Wednesday, a CDC committee will meet to take a look at the six cases where people developed blood clots – one of whom died. All six are women between the ages of 18 and 48.
“I am curious that of the six people who have been diagnosed with these clots all of them are women, so is there something about women,” Kuppalli asked. “I think we are going to need to know a lot more going forward and that is what they are working on right now. . . but, I want people to be reassured, this is a very safe vaccine.”
It should be noted that there have been nearly 7 million J&J shots administered. Oliverio says it’s not unusual for complications to arise in new drugs, but insists that the chances of developing a clot is so slim it should not stop people from getting the vaccine. He says if you are worried, simply opt for a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, which uses a different kind of medical technology.
“The risk of getting a clot from a vaccine is like getting hit by lightning. The risk of dying from COVID is like running across 526,” Oliverio said. “You absolutely need to get vaccinated because your likelihood of getting a blood clot from COVID is remarkably more than getting one from a vaccine.”
Fetter Health Care has hosted a number of J&J vaccination clinics over the last few weeks. There are two more J&J clinics set for next week. It’s unclear if those have been canceled or rescheduled.
Publix also announced it will pause its J&J shots in accordance with CDC recommendations.