News that one of three COVID-19 vaccines is being held for further federal evaluation comes as Minnesota experiences a rise in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Locally, most of the doses of vaccine public health officials are receiving are not the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Excluding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t significantly slow vaccination efforts locally, health officials say.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended Tuesday pausing use of the Johnson & Johnson's vaccine after six people experienced a "rare and severe" type of blood clot.
At least one person died from the complication among more than 6.8 million doses so far administered in the U.S.
Currently, Minnesota and the Upper Midwest are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. While hospitalizations are up slightly in Olmsted County, there doesn’t appear to be a surge in cases locally. Graham Briggs, director of Olmsted County Public Health, noted 89.6% of people age 65 and older have so far received at least one dose of the vaccine. If a surge in cases moves through Minnesota, Olmsted County could be in a good position.
“My hope is we don’t see any surge,” he said. “And if we do see a surge, it goes around us because we’ve put enough bricks in the wall to protect our vulnerable populations.”
If vaccination efforts are indeed racing an oncoming rise in COVID cases, taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of the equation doesn’t help, he added.
“We’re racing to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” he said. “Every dose helps a little bit.”
Most of the doses administered so far in Olmsted County have come from Pfizer or Moderna, Briggs said.
The pause in administering John & Johnson vaccines won’t severely affect the vaccination rate in Olmsted County, Briggs said.
Pharmacies have been receiving a portion of vaccines allocated to the state directly from the federal government to more quickly vaccinate people older than 65.
Moderna and Pfizer vaccines make up most of the supply allocated to Olmsted County Public Health and area hospitals, Briggs said.
He noted Johnson & Johnson had already scaled back shipments of its single-dose vaccine for this week after production problems at a facility in Baltimore.
“Their portion was kind of paused anyway,” Briggs said.
Prior to the availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, public health officials had targeted vaccinating at least 8,000 people per week to reach most of the adult population by the end of May.
“We’ve got a baseline of doses we can expect now,” Briggs said. “I would guess we’ll continue to see more than 8,000 per week.”
Over the last two weeks, about 11,000 people have been vaccinated in Olmsted County each week, he added.
Briggs said the side effects may result in a change in policy for who is advised to receive the J&J vaccine. The six people experiencing blood clots so far have been women younger than 50. Of the 6.8 million doses administered so far, the side effect appears to be extremely rare.
Currently, pharmacies in Olmsted County continue to administer doses to their customers while hospitals focus on their patients. Olmsted County Public Health has held clinics for area employers to vaccinate people who are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. Public health is also watching for signs that communities and populations of people are missing out on access to vaccines.
“We’re really looking for where we need to focus our efforts and resources,” Briggs said.