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Lack of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine a disappointment for some SC providers

US recommends 'pause' for J&J shots in blow to vaccine drive (copy)

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop-up vaccination site at the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center in the Staten Island borough of New York. File/AP

The pause in the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following concerns of rare instances of blood clots is raising some providers' worries about getting inoculations into communities that need them most.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put a hold on the Johnson & Johnson-made vaccine. Reports indicate six women developed blood clots after taking the company's shot. One of the women has died.

Given that 7.7 million Americans have been dosed with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, investigators are trying to determine if there is a link between the rare cases of clots and the shot. 

Of all the South Carolina residents who have received at least one vaccine shot, just 6 percent received the Johnson & Johnson version.

The vast majority of shipments to the state have come from either Pfizer or Moderna. But hopes were high that the single dose would be easier to deliver to the state's rural and underserved areas.

Ann Lewis, CEO of CareSouth Carolina, a community health center that serves the Pee Dee region, said people seem much more interested in receiving the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

"We're facing a hard time not having the Johnson & Johnson and it's created even more hesitancy," she said. 

Lewis made the comments April 16 during the first of regional meetings planned by DHEC and intended to address gaps in access to vaccines across the state. 

Providers across the country are awaiting word from federal health officials on when they can resume administering the Johnson & Johnson dose.

CareSouth has administered about 17,000 vaccinations, the majority of them made by Moderna, said Joe Bittle, chief of community health at CareSouth Carolina. The primary care network has locations in Marlboro, Lee, Chesterfield, Dillon and Darlington counties — areas of the state that are hard for the health care system to reach.

Bittle said after a rush of initial interest in the vaccine in CareSouth's service area, the health network's events are no longer filling up. Bittle said the organization wished interest in events with the one-dose option would be higher.

"We have great hopes this is just a pause," Bittle said. 

CareSouth planned to host a Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinics April 13 and 14 in Society Hill, according to the organization's website. Both in the Darlington County town of less than 1,000 people had to be repurposed; CareSouth turned the Tuesday event into an opportunity to hand out food boxes.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, public health director at DHEC, said there have not been reports of other serious side effects with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the pause "should not significantly impact" the state's supply.

She said there is no longer a shortage of doses available to residents who want one.

Dr. Jane Kelly, assistant state epidemiologist at DHEC, said the pause is a "sign of the system working" but doubts federal health officials will lift the hold soon. Kelly urged people to get one of the two other manufacturers' shots.

"I hope that nobody delays getting vaccinated because they're waiting for Johnson & Johnson," she said.  

Statewide numbers

New cases reported: 847 confirmed, 401 probable.

Total cases in S.C.: 474,358 confirmed, 92,919 probable.

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Percent positive: 4.4 percent.

New deaths reported: 2 confirmed, 0 probable.

Total deaths in S.C.: 8,195 confirmed, 1,114 probable. 

Percent of ICU beds filled: 72 percent.

How S.C. ranks in vaccines

South Carolina ranks 42nd in the nation regarding the number of vaccines administered per 100,000 people as of April 15, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hardest-hit areas

In the total number of newly confirmed cases, Greenville County (97), York County (79) and Richland County (75) saw the highest totals. 

What about tri-county?

Charleston County had 58 new cases on April 16, while Berkeley had 26 cases and Dorchester had 32 cases.

Deaths

Both of the new confirmed deaths reported were patients age 65 and older. 

Hospitalizations

Of the 556 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of April 16, 144 were in the ICU and 70 were using ventilators.

What do experts say?

Anyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can walk in to a special mass vaccination site at the Columbia Place Mall in Columbia that opened April 14.

The Pfizer vaccine is available at the site for anyone 16 and older with both walk-in and drive-thru options. No appointment is needed. Doses are coming to the site separate from the rest of South Carolina's federal allocation, with the goal of vaccinating 7,000 people at the site each week. 

"There are more opportunities than ever before for getting vaccinated," Kelly, of DHEC, said.

Mary Katherine, who also goes by MK, covers health care for The Post and Courier. She is also pursuing a master's degree in data science. She grew up in upstate New York and enjoys playing cards, kayaking and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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