MADISON, Wis. — Vaccinators in Wisconsin are getting ready to start administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine again after federal regulators lifted a pause on it late last week.
The Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday they recommended use of the Johnson & Johnson (or Janssen) vaccine to resume. The agency concluded there is a “plausible casual relationship” between the vaccine and a rare blood clotting issue, but that that risk was low — the agencies found 15 reports of women who had the complication of the more than 8 million doses administered.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services must also give approval and direction to immunizers in the state before Johnson & Johnson Vaccines can begin to be administered again. As of Monday afternoon they had not made any such announcement. Though last week, the agency deputy secretary Julie Willems Van Djik said during a press conference that vaccinations would resume if the FDA approved their use again.
A spokesperson with DHS said Monday that Health care providers administering the vaccine should review the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine Fact Sheet for Healthcare Providers Administering Vaccine.
“We also anticipate final clinical details for providers to be posted by the CDC tomorrow, and encourage all providers to review,” said Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokesperson with DHS.
Van Djik also said the state received a large portion of the vaccine before the pause.
Vaccinators are getting ready to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccines they have been holding on to.
“Pending the state approval, we look forward to giving it as soon as this Saturday at a clinic on the north edge of town,” said Dr. Thad Schumacher, pharmacist and owner of Fitchburg Family Pharmacy.
Schumacher said it is important to inform people — particularly women from the age of 15-54 — about the risks of the vaccine, but noted the risk from coronavirus is still greater.
Schumacher said his pharmacy has been quarantining the Johnson & Johnson stock in the refrigerator since it was put on pause.
“The biggest thing for us is we can get it out of refrigerator, because it's not doing a lot of good there,” Schumacher said. “We want to make sure that people are safe, but we also want to be able to give vaccines to as many people.”
People in the medical community said that the pause and resumption helped give doctors and vaccinators time to learn more about the rare blood clotting symptoms, but it also highlighted how careful the process with the vaccines are.
“I think it's a really reassuring process and highlights how safety is top of mind and really the number on priority for all of us in the medical community,” said Dr. Matt Anderson, senior medical director of primary care at UW Health.
UW Health does not have very many Johnson & Johnson doses, but they do have some.
Anderson said in addition to having more vaccines, Johnson & Johnson one can help with efforts to vaccinate demographics where it is difficult to get to them again for a second dose, or can be used for people who just want one shot instead of two — like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. In addition, the Johnson & Johnson is easier to store and ship than the other ones, making it easier to bring to communities.
“I think it's a key tool,” Anderson said. “Before it really was about the volume of supply, now I think it's about some of those other specifics and particulars that are going to make it a unique and important tool as we go forward.”
Anderson re-iterated what medical professionals have been saying throughout the pandemic: vaccinations are the only way back to normal.
“That risk is very, very small and hopefully they are excited about being able to get a vaccine and being able to protect themselves and others around,” Anderson said.
Tess Ellens, Public Health Madison Dane County COVID vaccine deputy, agreed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a helpful tool for vaccinations.
“J&J is nice in that it gives us the flexibility for doing some different maybe mobile clinics where it might be harder to get those people for their second dose,” Ellens said.
Once DHS gives them approval to resume Johnson & Johnson doses, PHMDC will start giving them.
“We had 1,200 doses of J&J previously that we have and are ready to use for whenever the pause is lifted,” Ellens said.
An IPSOS poll released last week showed that 88% of Americans felt that the FDA was being responsible by pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, a Washington Post/ABC poll showed that since the pause public trust in the vaccine dipped below 50%, and 73% of unvaccinated Americans are unwilling to take it.
Despite that, DHS said they know of providers who have people waiting to take Johnson & Johnson. Fitchburg Family Pharmacy is one of them.
“We know there are people who are actually waiting for their chance to get a Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Schumacher said.