Pausing of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine slows vaccinations efforts in Chelan, Douglas counties

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Just as anyone age 16 or older is about to become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, one of the vaccination options was taken off the table Tuesday when the state ordered a halt to the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The move came after the CDC recommended a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson as it investigates cases where six women nationwide developed serious side effects that included brain blood clots.

The Washington State Department of Health said none of the women are believed to be Washington residents.

About 149,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in the state and about 6.8 million nationwide.

The Chelan-Douglas Health District estimates about 1,000 to 1,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson have been distributed in Chelan and Douglas counties, Luke Davies, administrator of the Chelan-Douglas Health District said at a Tuesday press conference.

“All of the news we’ve heard from our different partners who’ve been providing Johnson & Johnson have shown that it’s been very successful (with) very limited adverse effects,” Davies said.

Potential problems are ‘very, very rare’

Three providers and some pharmacies had been using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Chelan and Douglas counties but have been told to stop, Davies said. But the health district recently received an additional shipment of Moderna, which should help fill the gaps, he said.

“We will be connecting with those providers to provide Moderna for those who had already scheduled this week,” Davies said. “That will mean a little bit more logistics but we should still be able to get people covered who have signed up.”

In addition, that vaccine was administered at a drive-thru vaccination clinic in Cashmere last Saturday.

“We want to stress that this potential adverse event is very, very rare. It’s important for people to be aware of it but they shouldn’t be worried or scared,” Davies said.

Davies said without the availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s estimated it will be eight to nine weeks before Chelan and Douglas counties can reach 70 percent coverage.

With another large group about to become eligible and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine no longer available, the health district said it is experiencing a shortage of vaccines.

If more of the vaccine were available and by adding personnel at vaccination sites, the district could vaccinate up to 17,500 people a week, he said.

“But we know in the next three to four weeks we won’t be getting that much vaccine. Without the Johnson & Johnson we’re forecasting about 9,000 doses a week,” Davies said.