April 14, 2021

'Pause' on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Reverberates In Local Clinics

Community Health Network's nurses volunteered to staff clinics providing vaccines to the community. - Farah Yousry/Side Effects Public Media

Community Health Network's nurses volunteered to staff clinics providing vaccines to the community.

Farah Yousry/Side Effects Public Media

On normal days, the gym at this Indianapolis school would be filled with kids in phys ed classes. But last Saturday it was the scene of a pop-up vaccination clinic.

And the mood was just as up-beat. One nurse brought her husband to the KIPP Indy Legacy High School to get vaccinated — to cheers from everyone around.

At the entrance to the gym, volunteers used laptops to help people check in. Most got their shots without a wait. After all, community workers had pre-registered 200 area residents to make the experience as easy as possible.

"We went to stores, we could do it easily on our phone," said Angelia Moore, vice president of the Edna Martin Christian Center, which helped organize the clinic. "So we had a team that if someone said they didn't know how, we helped them do it. We called and did it for them."

Martindale Brightwood is a predominantly Black and low-income neighborhood. It’s less than a 10-minute drive from downtown and the site of the recent NCAA basketball championship game.

The area has been hit hard by COVID-19. So the local KIPP charter school, Community Health Network and the Edna Martin Christian Center worked together on the clinic.

The clinic was designed to help people who found it hard to sign up for a vaccine — and residents who were reluctant to get a vaccine. Like 22-year-old Desta Dauwitt Ricketts.

On Saturday he rolled up his sleeve for a shot. The clinic used the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which calls for a single shot and is more convenient for many working people. Many residents who came in the clinic had waited for a single-dose vaccine because of that convenience. Having trusted community organizations and partners bring a clinic to their area was an added incentive.

"The shot was really easy, 1-2-3," he said at the clinic. "And I'm just kind of ready to get this thing moving along, so that we can have a better future."

His mood has changed now that the federal government has called for a pause on the J&J vaccine. Health officials say there have been reports of very rare — but severe — blood clots in six women age 18 to 48.

Ricketts is worried about family members who also got the J&J shot.

"I don't really care about myself, personally," he said. "I really care about my little sister, my mom that got the Johnson & Johnson, especially my mom."

He's having second thoughts about his own shot, too.

"It is kind of scary. And I do ... feel like maybe I shouldn't have got it. I should have just stuck to my gut and not got it."

Health experts have worked hard to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Now, they’re worried that problems with the J&J vaccine could set their efforts back.

"If we offer Johnson & Johnson in the near future, would they come out?" Dawn Moore, vice president of Community Health Network, said. "Probably not as wholeheartedly as they did before.”

Community is getting in touch with its clinics that used the J&J vaccine. It’s providing information about trouble signs and symptoms of blood clots.

Meanwhile, Dawn Moore notes the pandemic has pushed healthcare professionals to act quickly — with vaccines authorized for emergency use. Still, she says people should get their shots.

"I do not want individuals to use this as a reason not to get vaccinated," she said. "We have not found these issues at all with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines."

She adds that having the FDA put a pause on the J&J vaccine shows the level of transparency in the vaccination process. It's also a testament to how efficiently cases are being monitored to ensure vaccine safety, she says.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County public health department, says the pause on the J&J vaccine brings the potential for trouble.

"Unfortunately, I think it could have a major impact," said Caine, who got the J&J vaccine herself. "So for those people who are sort of straddling the line, not sure about getting a vaccine, I think it's definitely going to take a hit."

And, she says, that could have a significant impact for Black Americans — an increase in COVID’s death toll.


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