116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
JOHNSTON — With health officials concerned that a nationwide pause on using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine might cause the public to have second thoughts on being inoculated with other brands, Gov. Kim Reynolds sought Wednesday to personally endorse the vaccine and buttress Iowans’ confidence.
Reynolds and interim Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia both received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in early March. Both said Wednesday that after receiving the shot they had mild side effects that have been common with all three vaccines, like a mild headache and soreness — but nothing more.
“I’m glad that I did have the opportunity to have the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine. I would do it again,” Reynolds said. “Vaccination is the best defense against the virus, and as you’ve heard the reward far outweighs the risk.”
The governor underscored her message by also featuring a medical expert at her televised news conference — Dr. Pat Winokur, executive dean of the University of Iowa’s medical college and a professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases. Winokur has said that the federal guidance issued a day earlier to stop using the one-shot vaccine while rare reports of blot clots are reviewed is proof the approval system is working as it should.
“I think the fact we did pause is important. It’s what we want the system to do,” she said Wednesday at the news conference at Iowa PBS studios. “Every drug that we create has rare side effects. We don’t see those side effects until we start distributing the vaccine or drug into the general public and millions of people are dosed. …
“Also, remember that we have many other drugs that have rare side effects that we have chosen to use because they have more benefit than risk,” Winokur added. “Even flu vaccines have rare side effects that occur one time in a million. … It’s a risk that’s worth it to protect the general public health.”
Regulators have begun investigating whether and when it is safe to bring the Johnson & Johnson vaccine back to market. Iowa was told it will not receive doses of the vaccine for at least two weeks. But in the meantime, COVID-19 vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech continue to be distributed in Iowa and throughout the country. No similarly serious side effects have been reported related to those.
Reynolds said the state was expecting fewer doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the coming weeks anyway, so the pause announced Tuesday should not have a significant impact on the state’s vaccine rollout.
More concerning to state officials is the impact the pause could have on Iowans who were undecided about whether to get any COVID-19 vaccine. Officials worry the news about one brand could push those Iowans to decide against receiving the vaccine at all.
There already is some evidence of demand for the vaccine slowing down in Iowa: 21 counties declined new vaccine allotments for this past week because they did not need them to fulfill demand, state public health officials said. The state identified those counties as: Adair, Cass, Clay, Crawford, Davis, Decatur, Floyd, Franklin, Hancock, Humboldt, Jackson, Jefferson, Keokuk, Kossuth, Lyon, Osceola, Sac, Union, Webster, Winnebago and Woodbury.
“That’s a concern,” Reynolds said. “Of course it is.”
The state public health department had previously scheduled online, interactive information sessions for Iowans who have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, the first of which is scheduled for Saturday. Garcia said she hopes the sessions help ease any concerns Iowans may have about the vaccines.
“We must keep up the momentum,” Garcia said. “We’ve moved from it being a really scarce supply, which required a ton of patience, and now we’re moving into a space where we really do need to focus on talking with these Iowans who may be on the fence about taking the vaccines, or who now have questions, which is completely normal.”
The state Public Health Department's first online public information session is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday. The event is free and no advance registration is required. The event and more information can be found at iowacovidinfo.org.
Another event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday A third, which will be conducted in Spanish, is slated for 10 a.m. April 24.
More than 782,000 Iowans had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday afternoon and another roughly 379,000 had received the first of two doses, according to state public health data. As a share of the state’s population, those are among the top 15 in the United States, according to trackers that use federal data.