Florida vaccine demand dips amid Johnson & Johnson pause

Panel on Friday said it’s time to resume J&J shot

On Friday, a U.S. health panel said it’s time to resume use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, despite a very rare risk of blood clots.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Friday, a U.S. health panel said it’s time to resume use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, despite a very rare risk of blood clots.

A few hours later, health officials lifted an 11-day pause on the J&J vaccine.

The vaccine has been on a pause since April 12 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced in a joint statement, “they were reviewing data involving six reported U.S cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in people who received Johnson and Johnson.”

Out of more than 7 million people who received the vaccine health officials uncovered 15 cases of blood clots, as of Friday. Three of them were fatal. All were women, most younger than 50.

After the announcement, Florida’s Division of Emergency Management quickly stopped the use of Johnson and Johnson at four of its federally supported sites, pop-up sites and statewide efforts to vaccinate homebound residents. Federally supported sites just resumed first doses this week after doses of Pfizer were reallocated.

In recent weeks, vaccine demand in Florida has dipped. Out of nearly 8,000 available doses at state-run and federally supported sites in Jacksonville on Thursday, a little more than 1,500 were administered. That is roughly 19% of what was available.

Epidemiologist Chad Nielsen, with UF Health, said that because demand is not what experts expected following the age eligibility being lowered, outreach efforts will be important going forward.

“Your age is no longer a protective factor when we are talking about these new variant strains that are circulating, and probably dominant, in the state of Florida. You are still an at-risk individual no matter what your age nowadays,” said Nielsen. “Maybe that wasn’t the case earlier, but it certainly is now.”

Outreach teams with the Florida Division of Emergency Management returned to a neighborhood Thursday on Jacksonville’s Westside. It was back since vaccine eligibility was lowered to include those 16 and older.

Kevin Herrell, 42, agreed to register with state workers to get the vaccine. Herrell said it was the first time he was approached with information on how to get a shot.

“I’ve been 50/50, you know, but my mom told me it’s a good thing,” said Herrell. “She raised me, so I guess I am going to get it, too.”

Chaurese Brooks, 58, has six grandchildren. She first told state workers she under no circumstances wanted the vaccine.

“I told them I’m scared of the vaccine due to the fact the Johnson and Johnson, I was about to take it, but then they came out with the blood clots,” said Brooks, referring to the pause in Johnson and Johnson.

At the end of the conversation, she and her entire family decided to register for a vaccine at the federally supported location.

“She was explaining about Johnson and Johnson and the other two. We really need to take it. I know the vaccine is out there and I am of age,” said Brooks. “And, you know, I got a 3-year-old grandbaby. I got to look out for her.”

When could Johnson and Johnson return in Florida?

According to Samantha Bequer, with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the state is prepared to resume the vaccine at federally supported vaccination site in Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville as early as Saturday, if given the go-ahead.

The vaccine has been in a storage facility at the Duval County Health Department, and other local health departments since April 12. This Monday, the federally supported sites and pop-up locations began using Pfizer in its place.

State health officials say if the decision comes down late Friday, sites will likely wait until Sunday or Monday to resume the use of Johnson and Johnson at federally supported sites. The recommendation happened just before 5 p.m.

Should there be additional guidance and recommendations, the state said it will review the guidance over the weekend and aim to resume use at federally supported sites the week of April 26.

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.