ELIZABETH, NJ — The County’s COVID-19 vaccination team is discussing what changes will be necessary to continue its mobile vaccination program now that use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been paused statewide.
Union County does not have any Johnson & Johnson vaccines left in its supply, said spokesman Sebastian D’Elia. The county's vaccination team is “prepared to take action” should the vaccine become unavailable in the long term, D'Elia said.
“The advantage of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccination (Janssen) is its portability and the fact that it is a one-shot, which makes it ideal for mobile clinics,” D'Elia said. “Any issues with the Janssen vaccination will not stop us from completing our mission.”
At the state level as in Union County, the one-shot vaccine is used for unhoused individuals, seniors, people without personal vehicles and others, and officials are exploring other options.
On Tuesday, the state Health Department directed all vaccination sites in the New Jersey to cancel or delay appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Their directive followed a joint recommendation by the CDC and FDA after six cases of rare and severe blood clots were reported in United States women between ages 18 and 48 who had taken the vaccine.
The six reported cases of the rare blood clots are among the nearly 7 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Symptoms in the women affected occurred six to 13 days after being vaccinated.
Gov. Phil Murphy and state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said no similar cases were reported in New Jersey at the April 14 coronavirus briefing. Persichilli stressed that the risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 is higher than developing complications from the vaccine.
“We are talking with our partners serving these populations and looking at which sites may be able to accommodate Moderna vaccines,” Persichilli said. “Although it would be more complex, to administer a two-dose vaccine for some of these special populations, if we need to go forward with a two-dose vaccine, we will work to do so.”
Of the 310,273 vaccine doses administered in Union County as of Thursday, only 5% were Johnson & Johnson, while 50% were Moderna and 45% were Pfizer, according to the state Health Department's COVID-19 dashboard. Statewide, Murphy said Johnson & Johnson vaccines accounted for only 4% of the more than 5.7 million total vaccines administered.
Murphy said due to the stable supplies of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the pause will not change the state’s opening of eligibility for coronavirus vaccines to everyone 16 and older. Persichilli said most sites receive a mix of vaccine types and are able to switch exiting appointments for Johnson & Johnson vaccines to either Pfizer or Moderna.
The FDA and CDC advise anyone who develops abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath, severe headache or other unusual symptoms within three weeks after being vaccinated to contact a healthcare provider.
Persichilli urged people to keep their appointments for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“It is vital that as many people get vaccinated to beat COVID-19 in our state, where e have lost one in 500 New Jerseyans to this virus,” she said. “Millions of people in the United States have been vaccinated safely.”