The pausing of distribution of the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine will cause some changes to county vaccine efforts as case rates continue to rise locally.
Due to a rare blood clot issue affecting six total cases of women age 18 to 49, distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on hold by the CDC and FDA the week of April 12.
“It’s not been definitively established that these events are connected to the vaccine,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Snohomish Health District Health Officer during an April 13 press briefing. “But it certainly warrants further review."
Spitters wanted to emphasize that the blood clot issue was very rare among those who received the vaccine.
“As a public health official responsible for all of our well-being, we must also take seriously the potential any false alarm can do by undermining our confidence in what has so far been an effective vaccine,” he said. “Virtually no medical intervention is 100 percent free of risk."
The rate at which individuals are currently developing blood clots is smaller than other risks from other medical interventions, he said.
In Snohomish County 24,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered and there have been no reports of blood clot issues connected yet, said Spitters.
Symptoms to look out for include severe headache, leg pain, abdominal pain and shortness of breath.
“If that occurs three weeks after vaccination, they should contact their healthcare provider. If those symptoms are severe, they should go to the emergency room or call 911,” said Spitters.
At least one of the county’s mass vaccine sites has closed temporarily because of the pause on Johnson & Johnson distribution.
“The Angel of the Winds [Arena] site will not be open today, and we will wait for further guidance on when we will open that,” said Jason Biermann, director of the county’s Department of Emergency Management during an April 13 press briefing. “That was the one fixed site we were using Johnson & Johnson."
People who had scheduled vaccine appointments were notified last week and rescheduled, said Biermann.
The county’s mobile teams which have been going out to vulnerable and underserved populations also use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“We do plan to continue deploying our mobile teams. We will simply shift the type of vaccine they were using,” said Biermann.
The county had already been planning around a lack of Johnson & Johnson vaccines previously because of supply issues.
“We wouldn’t be receiving Johnson & Johnson because of the national bottleneck,” said Biermann.
During the week of April 5 the county didn’t receive a Pfizer vaccine shipment.
The following week of April 12 about 30,000 vaccine doses were delivered to the county.
“At that rate it’s going to take 10 to 12 weeks to reach the 650,000 eligible adults in Snohomish County,” said Spitters. “This is not something that is going to happen overnight."
Those supply numbers are a bit under what was expected to come to the state and to the county.
Spitters said this is because the national allocation has not been reaching previous estimates.
“Everyone is in the same boat. It’s not as much as we hoped for, but we’re going to take everything we can get,” he said.
Snohomish County currently is getting about 10 to 11 percent of the state’s supply each week, which is in line with its population compared to the state, said Spitters.
Currently 150,000 Snohomish County residents have been fully vaccinated, said Biermann.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 virus case numbers continue to trend higher.
The county’s two-week daily case rate average increased from 121 per 100,000 people to 145 per 100,000 people.
Hospitalizations increased to 3.1 per 100,000 people, and they must stay below 5 per 100,000 people if the county wants to remain in Phase 3 of the state’s re-opening plan.
Many of the new cases are coming from the newer variants of the COVID-19 virus.
“They’re more transmissible, and that’s why they’re replacing the original variant,” said Spitters.
If numbers continue trending poorly there is a risk of the county moving back to Phase 2 with increased business and personal restrictions.
“The health officers of all the counties we meet with are tremendously concerned where this is going. We all think that, uninterrupted, we all know where that line is going,” said Spitters.
During the week of April 12 Gov. Jay Inslee announced three counties in the state, including Pierce County, were moving back to Phase 2.
“I think the Governor sent a message that he is serious about enforcing the metrics,” said Biermann.
Spitters recommended continued caution from individuals to keep up with mask-wearing and social distancing.