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Wisconsin vaccinators have begun to use Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine again after a two-week pause while federal officials investigated rare but serious blood clots.
Federal regulators put a temporary halt to the nation’s only one-shot vaccine on April 13 after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed the disorder after getting the shot, one of whom died. Since then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have uncovered nine more cases of the blood clots, called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. That totals 15 cases out of nearly 8 million Americans who have received the vaccine.
The CDC green-lighted the vaccine on Friday, and on Tuesday the state Department of Health Services authorized it for use in the state.
Public Health Madison & Dane County Wednesday started putting to use 1,200 doses it received before the pause, adding to the 3,510 doses of Pfizer vaccine with which it started the week, according to Morgan Finke, a department spokesperson.
At the start of the pause, the state had allocated 10,200 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to registered vaccinators across the state, which can now be administered. It expects to send out 13,500 next week.
While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine use has only been a fraction of that of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it’s seen as a key tool in the national vaccination effort. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it does not require a booster weeks after the initial dose, and it’s easier to transport and store.
So far, there have been nearly 167,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine administered in the state, compared with more than 4 million of the other two combined. But the company plans to step up production in coming weeks and deliver at least 100 million doses by the end of May.
For now, vaccinators are trying to get the current stockpile into arms.
“It’s hard to get the word out after a pause like this,” said Thad Schumacher, owner of Fitchburg Family Pharmacy, which has been holding vaccination clinics since February, including a drive-through vaccination clinic at the pharmacy.
Schumacher said he wasn’t sure if the health concerns about Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine have prompted people to rethink getting it. On Wednesday, the pharmacy was holding a clinic at Exact Sciences for people who needed a second Moderna shot.
“We haven’t been offering J&J to anyone since the pause,” he said.
But he said he’s gotten a lot of emails from people who want it. The vaccine is popular with needle-shy people and those who don’t want the inconvenience of scheduling a second appointment.
“We do have lots of people that wanted J&J and were holding off coming to our clinics at the Boys and Girls Club for the last two weeks,” he said. “We assume we’ll see those people on Saturday.”
On Saturday, the pharmacy, with the UW school of pharmacy, will host a vaccine clinic with Johnson & Johnson for people over 18 at the Boys and Girls Club Community Learning Center at 1740 Northport Drive from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. People can register online here. It will be the fourth vaccination clinic hosted by the Boys and Girls Club.
Fitchburg Family Pharmacy and other pharmacies are getting their doses directly from the federal government through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Schumacher said the pharmacy has held 20 to 30 clinics since February and has administered nearly 9,000 doses.
While the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is lifted, the CDC said health care providers should warn patients of the risk.
Schumacher said he plans to advise people of the risk on informational videos he makes everyone who gets a vaccine from his pharmacy watch.
“Our plan is to update that five-minute video presentation so it includes information about the increased risk to females of childbearing age and hopefully give them the information they need without scaring them into not wanting the vaccine,” he said.
As of Wednesday, nearly 43% of Wisconsinites have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 32% have been fully vaccinated.
The state is now averaging 612 cases of COVID-19 a day, up from an average of 371 in early March. There were 34 deaths from the disease reported on Wednesday, the highest tally since Feb. 19, pushing the daily average to 12.