Man receiving the COVID-19 vaccine
A D.C. resident receives COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Beginning Saturday, 11 vaccine sites will be open to all D.C. residents over the age of 18. Three of those sites on Saturday will have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. After Saturday, providers at those sites will administer either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.   

The use of the J&J vaccine at three of D.C.’s walk-up sites, where no appointments are needed, signals the return of the one-shot vaccine. Following a recommendation from federal authorities, DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt had health care providers in the District temporarily stop using the J&J vaccine on April 13. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration jointly called for a nationwide pause after reports that six people in the U.S.—all women—out of more than 6.8 million doses administered suffered from rare but dangerous blood clots after being vaccinated with the J&J vaccine. All of those women also had low platelets. The unusual combination of the two conditions is being called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome or TTS. 

The CDC and FDA lifted the 10-day pause on April 23, after an expert panel to the CDC found that the J&J vaccine is safe for the vast majority of people and recommended resuming the use of the one-shot vaccine without any restrictions. CDC scientists told the panel that the risk from COVID-19 is greater than the risk of developing TTS after getting the J&J vaccine, even in the age group that appears at highest risk, women between 30 and 39. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said there were 1.9 cases of the rare blood clotting per one million people. Ultimately, the CDC and FDA confirmed 15 cases of TTS, including the original six.  

“Safety is our top priority. This pause was an example of our extensive safety monitoring working as they were designed to work—identifying even these small number of cases,” said Acting FDA Commissioner, Janet Woodcock, in a statement. “We are confident that this vaccine continues to meet our standards for safety, effectiveness and quality. We recommend people with questions about which vaccine is right for them have those discussions with their health care provider.”  

While some nationwide polling suggests that people’s opinions on the J&J vaccine have changed, Nesbitt said a decrease in demand in recent weeks is not associated with the pause. Dr. Michael Kim, president of Grubb’s Care Pharmacy, which gets shipments of both the Moderna and J&J vaccine, says people are still interested in the one-shot vaccine. The pharmacy received shipments of the J&J vaccine directly from the federal government two days before the one-shot vaccine was approved for use again. “People are still wanting the J&J and are scheduling for that vaccine. A smaller number of people are signing up for the Moderna,” says Kim via email. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, about 3 in 4 unvaccinated adult Americans are unwilling to get the J&J vaccine. But another poll suggests that the pause has not changed attitudes.

That vaccinations are dwindling is what DC Health expected, Nesbitt said on Monday. Everyone who was eager and willing to get vaccinated is likely at least partially vaccinated, she said. Now it’s time to educate those who do not know how easy it is to get vaccinated or those who still may be on the fence. 
There is a slowdown in vaccine appointments nationwide. Some experts caution against blaming vaccine hesitancy. “Individuals who aren’t seeking a Covid-19 vaccine right now are not necessarily the same people as those who are truly anti-vaccine. Instead of talking up hesitancy, it’s time to talk about what motivates people to get vaccinated and identify the ongoing barriers to vaccination,” writes Stefanie Friedhoff, a faculty member at Brown University’s School of Public Health.

— Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com) 

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