Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause leaves gaps in vaccine distribution

MADISON, Wis. – While COVID-19 vaccinations continue with Pfizer and Moderna shots, the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is leaving a void.

In Iowa County, there’s already a gap between vaccine supply and demand.

“We seem to have more demand than we have vaccine at this point,” Emergency Management Director Keith Hurlbert said.  “Our allocations have been rather small. In the last few weeks, even smaller — a little frustrating from that standpoint. Now with the Johnson & Johnson issue, smaller yet.”

That translates to a bigger gap and fewer vaccinations. Hurlbert said last week’s total allotment included 140 Moderna doses and 100 Johnson & Johnson doses, now waiting in storage. That meant canceling appointments and shifting those they could to the Moderna vaccine.

“Without the J&J being available, we are taking a real hit on the number of vaccinations we can do in a week because the Moderna allocations have not increased as predicted,” he said. “Upland Hills Health is receiving similar amounts.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as a one-shot vaccine that’s easier to store, is touted as a way to vaccinate hard-to-reach groups, both rural and urban, like those who don’t have access to transportation.

“There are a lot of folks who prefer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it’s a one-shot vaccine,” said Samroz Jakvani, the COVID-19 public information officer and epidemiologist with the Jefferson County Health department. “We’ve also thought of Johnson & Johnson as a good vaccine for populations otherwise hard to reach: incarcerated individuals, folks who are homeless.”

After an all-time high of 800 doses, the Jefferson County Health department has seen a general drop in weekly vaccine supply as well, going from an average of 400-600 first doses to more like 100-300.  While the Johnson & Johnson halt didn’t help, Jakvani said it wasn’t devastating.

“We aren’t getting anywhere near as much vaccine as we were before,” he said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, that coincides with this drop in interest we’ve had.”

Health officials are also concerned the pause is widening the gap between those with some hesitation.

“I think the vaccine hesitancy issue is looming large over our heads now because of the hold on the Johnson & Johnson,” Hurlbert said. “I would ask simply to anyone sitting on the fence: consider both sides of the argument and do your own research. Don’t let people influence you that aren’t experts in the field … Make decisions based on good knowledge, not based on social media posts.”

“We are conveying to folks that those six cases (of blood clots) are six cases out of more than seven million vaccine doses administered, so an incredibly rare occurrence,” Jakvani said. “The reason we are taking this pause is to make sure we understand why those cases occurred and so we know better how to manage those cases when they do occur.”

Not only does the vaccine help on an individual level by preventing severe illness and hospitalization, but Jakvani said it helps on the public health level, as well.

“By getting vaccinated, you’re helping to protect yourself and those around you,” he said, adding that he expects the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administration to resume shortly. “Hopefully, that gap won’t be left open very long.”