Pause of Johnson & Johnson doses leave two vaccines

An uptick in cases worsened this week, with 91 new cases between Monday, April 5 and Monday, April 12. The prior week, the increase was 56 cases.

Just as demand for the COVID-19 vaccine is about to increase, supply is taking a hit.

Two days before vaccine eligibility opens Thursday to all Washington residents ages 16 and older, one of the three approved brands was temporarily pulled.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was paused Tuesday in Washington, following federal recommendation after six people developed blood clots days after getting the vaccine. The pause supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration was based on caution of side effects and had nothing to do with the vaccine’s effectiveness.

State Secretary of Health Umair Shah said in a press conference that the risk of the adverse effects in question are “less than a one in a million chance,” Shah said.

The news “should not take away from the fact that the three vaccines we have are safe and effective,” Shah said.

Six out of 6.8 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States developed a rare blood clot. All six were women under the age of 50 who had gotten the vaccine six to 13 days prior.

None was in Washington, which had delivered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to 149,000 people.

The pause could last days or weeks as the CDC and FDA investigate, Shah said.

“While not good news, this pause signals that the review systems for vaccines are working and working well,” Dr. Howard Leibrand, Skagit County health officer, said in a release.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how the pause of one vaccine will affect demand for the other vaccines still available.

Island Hospital was scheduled to administer Johnson and Johnson vaccine Tuesday, but upon the announcement had to quickly switch those scheduled to receive a Moderna dose instead.

The hospital will hold onto the Johnson & Johnson doses until further guidance is given, Laura Moroney, Island Hospital spokesperson said.

Island Hospital had given over 6,390 doses of available COVID-19 vaccines as of Tuesday. More than 87,000 doses have been given in Skagit County overall, with just over 25% of county residents fully vaccinated.

The county Public Health clinic has set up a Facebook group to announce when they have extra doses that need to be used due to cancellations. The group is called Skagit County Fairground Vaccine Clinic Daily Update Page.

In other news, the county will remain in Phase 3 of the state’s pandemic reopening plan for three more weeks until the next assessment.

Three counties in the state failed to meet even the reduced requirement of one metric – Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman. Those will revert to Phase 2 on Friday, April 16.

“We can’t let up now. These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a release.

Under the Roadmap to Recovery plan, counties now must meet one of the following metrics every three weeks to remain under Phase 3 guidance:

• Fewer than 200 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population per 14 days

• Fewer than five new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 population per seven days

However, the state used the most recent complete data, which was from nearly two weeks ago. At that point, Skagit County had 102.7 cases per 100,000 population between March 20 and April 2 and 0.8 hospitalizations per 100,000 people between March 24 and March 30, according to the state Department of Health report.

Since then, Skagit County has seen a higher rate of hospitalizations, with three people hospitalized with COVID-19 since the beginning of April.

Gov. Inslee updated the plan on Friday, April 9, so that counties only need to meet one metric. It also allowed for Phase 3 guidance for school graduation ceremonies to occur in Phase 2. A change on Monday, April 12, allows for 50% dining capacity in Phase 2 with CO2 monitoring and distancing requirements. Previously, it allowed for 25% capacity.

The next evaluation will be on Monday, May 3. No guidance for a Phase 4 has been announced.

Schedule a vaccine

On Thursday April 15, Washington residents 16 years and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Check doh.wa.gov for details.

• Island Hospital has been receiving doses. Self-scheduling is completed at www.islandhospital.org/covidvaccine. A message line for people without internet access is 360-299-1367. Island Hospital is vaccinating all eligible Washington residents.

• Skagit County Public Health has been keeping self-scheduling open throughout the week, but learns about the coming week’s supply on Fridays at 9 a.m. Visit prepmod.doh.wa.gov or call 360-416-1500. The county is providing the vaccine at the Skagit County Fairgrounds to anyone eligible, regardless of residence.

• Skagit Regional Health: Get details at skagitregionalhealth.org or call 360-814-6300.

• Private pharmacies in Whatcom, Skagit, and Island counties, including at Safeway, Walgreens, Costco and Fred Meyers, are listed as COVID-19 vaccine providers. Information on how to schedule can be found at vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov.

• The Washington State School for the Blind has set up a hotline for people with visual impairments to gain access to COVID-19 testing and vaccine information. The number is 360-947-3330.

Reporter

I cover health, environment, business and more at the Anacortes American. Feel free to send me tips at qinghram [at] goanacortes.com.

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