Granite Staters woke up to the news Tuesday that federal health agencies had recommended a pause on the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after rare blood clots developed in six women who received it. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said ta review of the vaccine would likely take "a matter of days” and that the agencies are acting out of an abundance of caution.
While the announcement called for a quick pivot, state health officials in New Hampshire say they were able to allocate Moderna vaccines in place of Johnson & Johnson. Vaccine providers were already expecting less Johnson & Johnson this week because of production challenges. Gov. Chris Sununu says he's confident that the pause will not slow down the vaccine rollout here.
But the logistical moves needed to accommodate the change are not insignificant: 27 Walmart locations across the state had been planning to administer Johnson & Johnson Tuesday. Regional public health networks and their partners were also planning to administer some Johnson & Johnson vaccines in their push to reach the homebound and other vulnerable populations.
The City of Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services has a clinic this week, prioritizing restaurant and food service workers. Bobbie Bagley, the division’s director, says they were excited about distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because it requires just one shot, and that “it did help when we were able to do the 'one and done,' because it cuts back on those return trips.”
But Bagley says, as they await guidance from federal and state agencies, changing the clinic to Moderna was not an issue.
“We’re sending out information, and calling all of those who are registered, who need language support," she said. "An email is going out as well, to let people know that we are still having the clinic and that they will be getting Moderna instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
Regional Public Health Networks say messaging around the change in vaccine at their clinics is also about making sure people understand the reason behind the Johnson & Johnson pause. They want to instill confidence in the process of evaluating the vaccine and the rare side effects. They also want to communicate that the vaccines are overall safe and effective.
Kris van Bergen, Director of Workforce and Public Health Programs for the North Country Health Consortium, said working in the North Country -- the region with the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the state -- she's familiar with fears that may be stopping people from signing up for a vaccine appointment.
“People make their decisions about health and wellness in their own time," she said. “Our job as a Regional Public Health Network is to make sure that we’re putting good information in front of our consumers and we’re providing the support they need to make the best decision for themselves.”
Van Bergan says that hesitancy can turn into confidence. Across earlier phases, she says, the region has seen a “second wave” of people wanting the vaccine who didn’t get it when it was initially offered to them, but are now signing up.
CDC data shows New Hampshire leads the nation when it comes to first shots administered. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been a big part of the state's vaccine plan since it was approved for use in late February. The vaccine has been used at three mass clinics at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Tens of thousands of people have been vaccinated at those events, including the governor himself and top state health officials.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has also been used to strategically vaccinate vulnerable populations, like the homebound and homeless, where getting the second dose required by other vaccines can be challenging.
The state has about 8,000 Johnson & Johnson doses in inventory, and will be holding onto them as the vaccine is reviewed. They do not expect the pause to cause the doses to expire, as it can be easily stored in a refrigerator, and expiration dates for the current supply are in late June.