J&J pause could reduce pharmacy shots, senator says

Coronavirus Local Impact

An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson on November 17, 2020. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

BOSTON (SHNS) – Days away from widespread COVID-19 vaccine eligibility in Massachusetts, the halt in use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines is likely to have an adverse effect on dose availability for Cape Cod, the region’s state senator said Thursday.

Sen. Julian Cyr said Cape Cod’s regional vaccination consortium, like the state as a whole, had not been receiving a large number of J&J doses and has been relying primarily on Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Most of the J&J shots arriving and expected on the Cape were coming through the federal retail pharmacy program, a channel separate from the state’s dose allocation.

During a call with other members of Cape Cod’s COVID-19 response task force, Cyr said that the majority of the nearly two dozen retail pharmacies on Cape Cod participating in the federal program were scheduled to receive Johnson & Johnon vaccines, and vaccine-seekers might see “a reduction in availability” at those locations.

“A week ago I would have said one of your best bets to get a vaccine on Cape Cod was through one of the retail pharmacies, which were offering vaccine in almost every part of the region,” Cyr said. Now, he said, the pause on administering J&J shots makes that a less likely option in the near-term.

Gov. Charlie Baker, who has been touting the J&J shot as a game-changer, said Wednesday that he believes the pause on that vaccine will carry “minimal impact” on appointments in Massachusetts, noting that J&J shots accounted for about 3 percent of the state’s vaccine allocation this week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday recommended that use of the J&J vaccines be put on pause while they investigate six cases of a rare blood clotting condition, among more than 6.8 million people who received that vaccine in the U.S.

In Massachusetts, where the Department of Public Health directed providers not to deliver J&J shots while the federal review plays out, the move came less than a week before the state is set to drop restrictions on vaccine eligibility and allow anyone age 16 and older to book an appointment.

Encouraging patience, Cyr said that people should expect high demand for vaccine appointments on Monday, when eligibility opens up.

He recommended that people pre-register for an appointment through the state’s system that includes mass vaccination sites and some regional collaboratives, and search for time slots on the state’s vaccine-finder website.

Clinic opportunities with local Cape Cod providers will be limited during the start of the next vaccination phase, Cyr said. The Truro Democrat said the odds of securing a vaccine will “significantly improve if you are willing and able to travel within the state of Massachusetts” to a mass vaccination site or pharmacy participating in the federal program.

“The number of eligible adults will massively increase in one day, but the number of available doses will not,” he said.

Sean O’Brien of the Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment said county officials canceled a couple of small clinics targeting transportation workers this week because of the Johnson & Johnson pause.

He said the county has not received a lot of J&J doses and still has some in its freezer, where they’ll remain unless state or federal health officials advise otherwise.

Both O’Brien and Cyr advised that vaccinated people should continue wearing masks when out in public. O’Brien said people can still contract COVID-19 after getting their shots, though it would likely be a more mild case.

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