Health Department officials discussed the impact of having the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine placed on hold during a video question and answer session held Wednesday.
Lake Cumberland District Health Department (LCDHD) Executive Director Shawn Crabtree said that the department was waiting for the decision expected Friday by federal officials on whether they can resume administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and the Federal Food and Drug Administration both recommended halting the use of the vaccine after reports of six patients nationwide developed a rare type of blood clot.
The patients were all female between the ages of 18 and 48.
“It’s a very rare but serious probable side effect from the vaccine,” said Dr. Christine Weyman, medical director for LCDHD.
Still, both Weyman and Crabtree said they expected the results to be similar to a pause in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe – a vaccine which showed a similar problem with rare blood clots being a side effect.
After officials studied the vaccine and its side effects, they eventually decided to resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Likewise, Weyman said she expected a similar verdict here.
She pointed out that the potential for blood clots was very rare.
“It’s like being hit by lightning, possibly … of course, COVID disease also makes blood clots, so you have had a lot more people who have blood clots from COVID disease than you’ve had from the vaccine,” she said.
Still, she explained that anyone with symptoms of blood clots coming on six to 13 days after getting a Johnson and Johnson shot should see their doctor immediately, as there are treatments for that, but those symptoms needed to be treated immediately.
The symptoms are having severe headaches, blurred vision, chest pain or abdominal pain, or a rash.
Crabtree said the pause in using Johnson & Johnson shots was “unfortunate timing” due to several factors.
“Of course, I want the vaccine to be safe, but it is unfortunate timing because we had, as far as our vaccination efforts, we had moved through most of the population locally who were willing to get the vaccine, who were anxious to get it. We were ramping up the more reluctant segment of our population. … I think that made the reluctancy even stronger,” he said.
The Health Department was also interested in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in connection with their new mobile unit, where scheduling just one appointment with a company, church or other group would be easier than scheduling two.
“After this Friday, depending on what is decided, we will reassess our outreach strategy,” Crabtree said. “… If we have to do the two-dose off-site clinics with Moderna, we will. We would rather do the Johnson & Johnson. We’ll just see how this turns out.”
But while Crabtree said that having the mobile unit out to go directly to places like factories and churches was a boon, he pointed out that the department is short staffed, and right now vaccinations are widely available.
“There are plenty of opportunities to vaccinated in our community. Don’t wait for us to drive the van up. Go to the pharmacy. Go to the FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Center). Come to the Health Department.”