After concerns over dangerous side effects shown in a fraction of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recipients led the CDC and FDA to recommend the vaccine be temporarily shelved, San Diegans once partial to the single-dose option are now looking at other options.
“No, no J & J. Because of the news,” Little Italy pharmacy customer Roger Sheppard said. “Why do J & J when that news come out?”
The CDC and FDA recommended Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses be paused while they investigate the connection between the vaccine and blood clot complications found in at least six U.S. recipients.
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Like Sheppard, many who are still interested in getting vaccinated are weighing their options with Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines. Dr. April Segal, owner of Remedy Holistic Pharmacy in Little Italy, fears the Johnson & Johnson pause will convince people to look past getting vaccinated all together.
“Some people who are on the fence about the vaccine may at this point may decide, ‘Hey this is a sign. I'm not going to get it.’ So that’s an unfortunate thing that's happened,” Segal said.
The pause comes just as Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was becoming the preferred choice among Segal’s customers.
“Last week I got 300 J & J doses," she said.
For now, the doses she has left are tucked away until further guidance is released. She also sent out an email to clients her office has vaccinated telling them about the potential blood clotting symptoms they should look out for.
COVID-19 Vaccine in San Diego
Denis Black, who opted for one of the two-dose options after considering holding out for Johnson & Johnson. He, too, hopes the news doesn’t deter anyone from getting either shot.
“I think the greater good supersedes the six cases,” Black said. “There's always going to be someone who's supersensitive. Everyone is different."
For those looking for the opinion of a professional, UC San Diego Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Susan Little, who
ran the Johnson & Johnson trial here in San Diego, called the pause an appropriate cautionary step.
“The CDC recommended this pause out of an abundance of caution and I think this is an appropriate measure even given the small number of cases that were observed,” Dr. Little said. “Because I think we want to make absolutely certain that a thorough investigation of the small number of cases are done and completed before we proceed with large numbers of vaccines, we hope, because we want to make sure that people are advised appropriately if there if there is any risk and we hope there is not before we go forward.”
While quick to reiterate the pause is more about caution than fear, Little said it could sway public opinion.
Johnson & Johnson Vaccine News
“Sure [it could lead to vaccine hesitancy]. I think anytime there's any kind of a safety signal related to one of the COVID vaccines, it has the potential to increase vaccine hesitancy, and so my sincere hope is that people recognize this pause for what it is. It is an attempt to ensure the safety of people who are receiving vaccines,” she said.
Little said those who have already received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be on the lookout for the rare side effects within the first three weeks.
“People who are months out… there doesn't appear to be much to worry about,” Little said.
San Diego County followed the federal government's recommendation to pause usage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC will convene its vaccine advisory committee Wednesday to look into the possible link between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and blood clots seen in some recipients.
San Diego County and much of the nation was already bracing for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply shortage well before the pause was recommended. Local leaders, and the White House, say there are enough Moderna and Pfizer doses to keep the nation on track.
“It's not going to have a significant impact on our total vaccine delivery because the J & J numbers are such a really small percentage of the total,” County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.
One area where the shortage will have an impact is the vaccination effort for the homebound and homeless, who may benefit most from a single-dose option.
“The J & J vaccine has had great utility and in reaching the hardest to reach communities now. You can still reach them with two doses and we were reaching them with two doses before we had J & J, it just takes a little bit longer,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said the county is going to have to rethink how it targets those populations while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is out of the picture.
Reaching vaccination goals with just the two multi-dose options will have challenges, but won’t be impossible, Fletcher said.
“We're doing more than we were doing in January. I think that there's a high degree of confidence as we move ahead in April and May that there will be a really significant uptick. And also really important, a really large number of San Diegans have already gotten vaccinated. There's certainly a lot that are left, but we're going to extend the tiers this week, so everyone will be eligible. And again, there will be constraints. It will be hard to get an appointment. But that happens every time we kind of move groupings and then it kind of stabilizes a little bit,” Fletcher said.