Rural vaccine providers worry about vaccine hesitancy as J&J vaccine pause continues

The vaccine has been in limbo since last week, when the CDC and FDA recommended a pause after extremely rare cases of severe blood clots were discovered.
Updated: Apr. 20, 2021 at 1:56 PM EDT
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ORANGEBURG, S.C. (WIS) - Many vaccination sites across South Carolina are closed as they await an update on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

The vaccine has been in limbo since last week, when the CDC and FDA recommended a pause after extremely rare cases of severe blood clots were discovered in people who had gotten the vaccine.

Health officials said the six cases were of out nearly 7 million inoculations using the J&J vaccine -- making the possibility of a person developing such a clot less than one in a million.

Pharmacy technicians who administer COVID-19 vaccines at Grove Park Pharmacy in Orangeburg said they are worried it’s going to increase vaccine hesitancy in the community, as well as other rural communities across the state.

“It’s definitely going to impact rural areas,” Mikaela Johnson, Grove Park Pharmacy Technician and Certified Immunizer, said. “In all honesty, the majority of rural pharmacies received the Johnson and Johnson, not the others. That being the only one available in a lot of communities when it’s now not available, that leaves a lot of patients with nowhere to go because a lot of them can’t travel to Columbia or Charleston or some of those bigger cities.”

Johnson said they had to cancel 75 appointments last week.

“We were able to call them and let them know to just hang tight for a second and let us figure out what we are going to do and what the CDC and DHEC says,” Courney Polin, another Grove Park Pharmacy Technician and Certified Immunizer, added.

Polin said many who had gotten the J&J vaccine also called with questions.

“They were very concerned, several of them wanted to know if they should call their doctor,” Polin said.

Dropping demand is something Polin said she was already seeing.

“Last week, before the pause of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, we actually had a few doses left over that could be used for the next week,” Polin said.

Johnson said she’s worried demand will continue to take a hit as some grow more hesitant in the wake of the news.

“I think unfortunately this is going to put a big hit on that,” Johnson said. “It’s going to cause more patients who may have been on the fence before to lean away from getting vaccinated just because of the advertisement that this has gotten, the publicity, and that fear.”

Johnson said there have been mixed opinions, with a few patients saying they would still prefer to have the one-dose J&J rather than the Moderna or Pfizer, that requires two doses.

She said Grove Park is able to store the Moderna vaccine and requested an allotment from DHEC. She said they hope to get vaccinations going again this week. However, Johnson said that for many pharmacies in rural areas, that might not be a possibility.

In a White House briefing Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke about the J&J investigation and its impact on vaccine hesitancy.

“What we say to anyone who has doubts about getting the vaccine, we leave it up to you,” he said. “Look at the data. The data speak for themselves.”

Fauci said he expects the FDA and CDC to announce a decision regarding the use of the vaccine on Friday.

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