As health authorities around the country fall in line with federal guidance to push the pause on distributing anymore of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine until further review, officials with the Malheur County Health Department say the reason is for an “extremely rare potential side effect.” Additionally, they state that if it is related, looking at the overall data matters.
“If it is related, it’s important to keep in perspective that it’s six out of 6.8 million, and that the risk of potentially damaging health effects and risk of death from COVID-19 are far greater,” reads an emailed reply from Erika Harmon, public information officer at Malheur County Health Department on Tuesday morning. “Vaccines are safe and effective, and they are necessary to save lives.”
Harmon and health department Director Sarah Poe met this morning to respond to numerous questions from the newspaper about how this will play out locally, including whether a planned 8-day vaccine clinic will go on as planned starting Friday.
The clinic will go on as planned, however, about 1,700 of the planned 2,000 vaccines to be distributed were the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“The CDC/FDA’s call for a pause in use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine should give us all even more confidence in the rigorous safety protocols being followed in development and use of the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.,” reads the email.
A question and answer with the health department follows.
Argus Observer: With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine going to be one of the more than 2,000 vaccines available for the 8-day FEMA/OHA/MCHD vaccine clinic starting on Friday, how might this change the shape of that?
Malheur County Health Department: Of the 2,000 doses planned for the OHA/FEMA event that kicks off this Friday, roughly 1,700 doses were going to be Johnson & Johnson. There is enough Moderna vaccine available to us to move forward with the event. We are awaiting confirmation from OHA/FEMA that it is their intention to move forward as planned as well. (I will update you as soon as I know more.)
Argus: Will the eligibility groups get another look given this new information which will likely decrease the available supply of vaccines?
MCHD: We don’t believe eligibility sequencing in Oregon will change as a result of this.
Argus: Do you know how many of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been administered in Malheur County? Several local establishments have offered this vaccine, could you help pinpoint those?
MCHD: In Malheur County, roughly 1,085 doses of Johnson & Johnson have been administered, according to the county dashboard on the OHA website. That number includes just Malheur County residents and not people who may have come in from other counties or states. That’s about 9% of the total doses administered. The large majority of people vaccinated in Malheur County have received the Moderna vaccine. Providers who may have had access to and may have administered Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in addition to other vaccines, include the Health Department, Valley Family Health Care, BiMart, Walmart, and DOC: Snake River Correctional, and Four Rivers Correctional.
Argus: Do you have any advice for people who have received the J&J vaccine?
MCHD: We encourage people to follow CDC/FDA guidance: “Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously. People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.”
Health dept. update
Following is further information released Tuesday afternoon by the Malheur County Health Department
• The Centers for Disease Control will meet Wednesday to further review the cases, and the FDA will review that analysis while conducting its own investigation into the cases.
• Of the 11,668 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered to Malheur County residents, less than 10% were Johnson & Johnson. The large majority of vaccines have been Moderna.
“We are close to 100 COVID-19-related deaths between Malheur County and neighboring Payette County,” Poe said in the release. “We are prioritizing the risks associated with COVID-19 and we know that our best tool in the fight against it is vaccination.”
• MCHD Health Officer and Medical Director Sarah Laiosa, DO, said the risks associated with being infected with COVID-19 far outweigh the risk that these cases might represent, should it be determined that they are related to the vaccine.
“The risk of clotting from COVID-19 is 16.5%. Comparatively, that’s significant. We trust in the process of ensuring that the vaccines available in the U.S. are safe, and we trust in the safety of the vaccines that are currently in use and will be made available for the upcoming event,” she said.
The FDA and CDC recommend that “People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.”