MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Losing the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will not have a huge numerical impact in Alabama, but health officials said Tuesday it will complicate efforts to inoculate certain populations.
Alabama paused distribution of the vaccine in response to a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration following reports of a rare blood clot.
So far, 71,297 shots of the drug have been given in Alabama, out of a total of 2.1 million – about 6 percent. That figure is a little less than half of the 159,500 Johnson & Johnson doses that have been shipped to the state.
But Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the fact that J&J requires only one shot instead of two makes it ideal for certain situations.
“We had a lot of sort of particular environments in which we thought J&J would fit well as a one-shot vaccine that didn’t have the same cold-storage requirements,” he told reporters Tuesday. “And obviously, that’s going to be delayed for the time being.”
Harris pointed to one hard-to-reach group.
“Homebound populations, for example, which are going to be a little more labor-intensive,” he said. “You know, you may be reaching people one at a time, and then we have to coordinate, you know, a second shot, if we don't have a one-shot vaccine.”
The concern over Johnson & Johnson has to do with reports that six people developed a rare blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis which precipitates stroke-like symptoms. Six such clots out of nearly 7 million doses is not in and of itself unusual. But Harris said the fact that it has been accompanied by low platelets is.
He also noted that all of the patients have been women between the ages of 18 and 49.
So now government authorities will investigate whether this is just a coincidence or if there is a link to the vaccine.
The pause had Mobile pharmacies scrambling to try to inform customers who already had J&J appointments and make other arrangements.
Teresa Elmore, the pharmacist at Dawes Pointe Pharmacy, said reaction has been mixed.
“Some of them are just saying, ‘Well, I’ll just switch. You know, I’ll just go ahead to the Moderna,’” she said. “They’re not acting upset at all.”
But Elmore said other customers want to wait and see what happens with Johnson & Johnson.
“A lot are saying, ‘I do not like shots. I don’t want to have to come back for a second shot.’ … Of course, these people, a lot of them, are ones that don’t like needles,” she said. “And they may be a little more sensitive.”
Clint Howard, the pharmacist at Midtown Pharmacy on Airport Boulevard, said that also is a common sentiment among his customers.
“Most of these people that come in only want the one shot,” he said. “That’s a big, big thing for a lot of people.”
Scott Chavers, head of COVID-19 response for the Mobile County Health Department, said the agency has received fewer than 100 doses of the vaccine. But he said it figured into the department’s plans to vaccinate migrant workers and other transient groups.
“The way that we were looking at positioning the J&J vaccine was to go into populations that were at high risk of not returning for the second dose,” he said.
The homeless are another group for which the one-shot Johnson & Johnson was ideal. Sharon Brammer, the clinic manager at Franklin Primary Health’s Spring Hill Avenue clinic, said her organization has vaccinated about 60 homeless people and had 30 more lined up for Monday and Tuesday.
But when news of the blood clot issue got out, she said, they all canceled. She said she is working to get them back in for appointments from the Moderna vaccine.
“And really, the best person to get it out is the homeless person, themselves,” she said. “Word of mouth works very well in that community.”
In Europe, after regulators paused distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of blood clots, public confidence in the vaccine plummeted. Harris said he hopes that does not happen in Alabama.
“I hope people will listen to the information and make a good decision on that,” he said. “I actually find this encouraging, because it shows that there really are safety checks in place to pick up on these things.”