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Flow of Johnson & Johnson doses comes to a halt in SC

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 8:02 PM EDT
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CHERAW, S.C. (WIS) - Leaders with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control say they’re trying to get all the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses they can for the state from the federal government.

But right now, that number is zero.

The state has 51,311 J&J doses available in inventory -- meaning they’re ready to use with providers -- as of May 17, DHEC data shows.

However, the state has not received J&J doses since the week of May 3, DHEC’s communications department told WIS on Wednesday.

The department does not expect any J&J doses to arrive for the week of May 24, as well, and there is no timeline from the federal government as to when this could change.

This comes after sanitation problems at a major production plant in Baltimore crippled the supply line of the vaccine nationwide.

A spokesperson for DHEC sent WIS an email that reads in part:

“We’ve issued a notification to all vaccine providers informing them of this news from the federal government. There are still providers with a supply of Janssen vaccine.

“The state has an abundance of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines available. You can find a provider and the type of vaccine they’re offering on our vaxlocator map.

DHEC has targeted J&J doses toward rural and underserved communities due to the vaccine’s logistical benefits. It only requires one shot to be effective, does not require extreme cold storage, and can be kept refrigerated for an extended time.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said interest in the vaccine is climbing among providers.

“Anecdotally, we know that many people find it very attractive to have the ‘one and done’ vaccine, and you get immunity within two weeks after one dose,” she said. “As opposed to immunity following the second dose, so you’re looking at being defined as fully vaccinated between five to six weeks after you’ve started your vaccination series.”

In total, DHEC reports the federal government has shipped 325,100 doses to the state, with an administration rate of 35.2 percent -- meaning 114,406 doses have been administered.

Demand for COVID-19 vaccine doses has substantially dropped across South Carolina, but CareSouth Carolina Vaccine Nurse Aimee Shepardson said her teams use the one-shot nature of the J&J as a recruitment tool.

“A lot of people are scared to come back and get the shot,” she said. “Once they get the Moderna they don’t want to get the second one. They don’t like getting shots, they don’t want to worry about the side effects if it’s worse the second time around. It gives us the flexibility in the community to be able to give them one shot and get the vaccination and they’re finished. A lot of people are more comfortable with that.”

She and her colleagues ran a mobile clinic at the Shell Station on SC-9 in Wallace as part of a regional effort by CareSouth to bring J&J doses to rural communities.

Bell said demand drives where the J&J doses are allocated.

During the final two weeks of the federal vaccination site at the Columbia Place Mall, only the J&J vaccine will be available, DHEC announced Wednesday. That site runs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week until June 9. No appointments, insurance or IDs are necessary.

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