116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With Tuesday’s startling federal recommendation to put the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination on hiatus, the state’s public health officials hurried to cancel clinics or swap to another brand — and to reassure Iowans it remains safe to get vaccinated against the disease.
Federal officials announced they were reviewing reports — none of them from Iowa — of a rare but severe type of blood clot among a handful of the more than 6.8 million individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson shot. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, its federal allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is suspended for two weeks as a result of the review.
In light of the pause, local public health agencies are adjusting vaccine distribution plans and reallocating Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech two-shot doses to ensure the rollout continues, said Heather Meador, clinical services supervisor at Linn County Public Health.
“We hope to still get the vaccine out as soon as possible, but it may take longer,” Meador said. “It’s not as difficult as it was before to get into appointments, so hopefully this won’t have huge impact on that.”
Iowa was to receive just 1,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, only a fraction compared with the over 43,200 doses of Pfizer and 31,800 doses of Moderna it is expecting.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine represents a relatively small percentage of the allocation Iowa has received to date, so at this time, the pause is not anticipated to dramatically slow the pace of vaccinations in the state,” the state Public Health Department said in a statement.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was televised receiving the one-shot vaccine March 3, declined to comment Tuesday. A spokesman said she will address the topic at a previously scheduled news conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Local clinics pivot
Individuals with an appointment scheduled to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were encouraged to check with their vaccine provider. One of the state’s largest providers, Hy-Vee, has paused administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, spokeswoman Christina Gayman said.
“Patients with scheduled appointments for Pfizer or Moderna vaccine will not be impacted, and should plan to keep your vaccine appointment as scheduled,” Linn County Public Health said in a statement.
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics will proceed with its vaccine clinics this week using Pfizer and Moderna doses, officials said.
Some vaccine clinics scheduled for this week were canceled following the new guidance, including those planned at colleges and universities across the state. The University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University announced Tuesday that campus vaccine clinics were canceled pending further guidance from federal officials.
Linn County Public Health also canceled an all-day vaccine clinic scheduled at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids. Appointments will be rescheduled, Linn County Public Health said in a statement.
Public health administrators in Jefferson and Washington counties say they already used most of their allocated Johnson & Johnson doses from last week and have canceled plans to use the rest of them this week after learning of the federal guidance.
The one-shot vaccine has largely been directed to manufacturing facilities, distribution centers and other large, congregate workplaces across the state.
In recent weeks, public health agencies in Linn and Johnson counties also were directing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine toward vulnerable populations, including those experiencing homelessness, immigrants and refugees, Spanish-speaking populations and other groups facing barriers to getting a vaccine.
Even in light of the hiatus, Linn County Public Health officials and local partners do not plan to postpone clinics scheduled to reach those groups. Meador said events planned this week to vaccinate Spanish-speaking residents and individuals experiencing homelessness in Cedar Rapids are still set to take place, but now with the two-shot vaccines and not the one dose.
The Eastern Iowa Health Center received hundreds of Johnson & Johnson doses earlier this week from a federal initiative specifically targeted economically and medically underserved populations. Officials had said they planned to begin distributing the vaccine Tuesday.
But in response to the new federal guidance, the Cedar Rapids-based health center said it had adjusted this week’s vaccine clinics to offer the Moderna vaccine instead and has not distributed any Johnson & Johnson doses.
“At this time, we will plan to order Moderna vaccine for continued distribution, as it is available to us for the coming weeks,” said Elly Steffen, chief operating officer at Eastern Iowa Health Center.
Any reason to fear?
Officials are concerned these very rare instances of blood clots could raise fears of the COVID-19 vaccine among Americans and slow the effort to protect the population against the novel coronavirus, Meador said.
It’s also unclear how this could impact vaccine hesitancy among vulnerable populations, including those groups already most likely to be distrusting of the shot.
However, Meador said the fact federal officials were able to identify an unexpected reaction in a small number of individuals shows that the safety mechanisms around vaccine monitoring do work.
“When (public health) sees something, they don’t sit on it,” she said. “Safety of the public is foremost and center of mind.”
Washington County Public Health Administrator Danielle Pettit-Majewski said the federal guidance should not be interpreted to mean that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe.
“We still have two other vaccines that are safe and effective,” she said. “I don’t want people to worry or change their mind about getting the vaccine.“
The six blood clot cases took place with the first few weeks after getting vaccinated, so individuals who received the shot beyond that time period shouldn’t worry about any consequences from the vaccine.
Those who recently have been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson shot should be mindful of any new type of health event, Meador said. If they notice new and severe headaches, shortness of breath, sharp leg pain or abdominal pain, they should contact a doctor.
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John Steppe and Rod Boshart of The Gazette, Andy Hallman of the Southeast Iowa Union and the Associated Press contributed to this report.