Seeking to reassure the public after an announced pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Charlie Baker said Wednesday that he doubted the issue would significantly hamper the state’s ongoing vaccination effort, which relies mainly on the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
“The J&J supply in Massachusetts is currently a small portion of our supply,” Baker told reporters during a briefing from the vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. “In the immediate future, we’re expecting minimal disruptions to schedule new appointments.”
The Republican governor addressed the issue one day after Massachusetts and many other states announced a pause on the J&J shot on the recommendation of federal officials, to allow for investigation of a rare, potentially fatal blood-clotting issue detected in six recipients of the vaccine out of roughly 7 million people who have gotten the J&J inoculation.
After a four-hour emergency meeting Wednesday, a panel of independent experts that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed that use of the J&J vaccine should not resume in the United States until they have more information about a possible link between the shot and the reported blood clots.
This week, Baker said, Massachusetts had received 11,600 J&J doses as part of the state allocation from the federal government, along with 340,000 doses of Moderna and Pfizer, meaning J&J had accounted for just 3 percent of the total.
“According to federal officials, more information is expected to be available within days to help states manage vaccine distribution,” Baker said. “And in the meantime, J&J shots will remain paused here in the Commonwealth.”
He said the health and safety of residents is of “paramount” concern for state officials.
The governor also announced that the state was adding four regional collaborative vaccination sites to the online preregistration portal for appointments, in Northborough, West Springfield, Palmer, and Northampton.
Baker, noting that April 19 is the day all residents 16 and older become eligible to sign up for vaccine appointments, urged residents to jump in line once it’s their turn to book a slot.
“It’s the best thing you can do for you, your friends, your family, your co-workers, and your neighbors,” Baker said.
The governor was joined during the briefing by Red Sox team president Sam Kennedy, who was on hand to mark Red Sox Week at the Hynes.
“Nothing was more important or more emotional than having the privilege of serving as a vaccination site [at Fenway Park] in February and March,” Kennedy said. The team’s principal owner, John Henry, also owns The Boston Globe.
The Baker administration said in a follow-up statement that Red Sox Week at Hynes will run from “April 19th to the 25th, with 20,000 first-dose vaccination appointments being booked for communities of color.”
Appointments, the statement said, “are being scheduled through grass-roots outreach efforts by community partners including the Red Sox Foundation, El Mundo, The BASE, Archipelago Strategies Group, Healthcare for All, and Boston Public Health Commission.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders also briefed reporters Wednesday and elaborated on the J&J stalemate, saying it wouldn’t unduly strain the state’s efforts to vaccinate residents who are homebound, an initiative that had made use of J&J doses.
“We’re waiting for the guidance that comes out from the CDC and the FDA,” Sudders said. “But we are quite capable of taking the homebound program and converting it into a two-dose program. So if that’s what we need to do, it’s not [going] to stop the homebound program at all. We’ll convert it into a two-dose program, [which] makes it a little bit more logistically challenging, but we can certainly do that.”
And, she said, “several of our mobile programs at this point use Moderna.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of community groups and Lowell General Hospital pivoted quickly away from the J&J vaccine and pushed ahead Wednesday with previously planned vaccines for 1,000 people using the Pfizer version instead.
The hospital collects its vaccines through the state system and was planning to use the J&J vaccine for people who were not able to land an appointment using the online scheduling programs run by the state and some private companies, said Amy Hoey, chief operating officer of Lowell General.
But the organizations that make up the Greater Lowell Health Alliance are part of the federal vaccine distribution program, Hoey said, so they forged ahead. The alliance is part of the effort to vaccinate the “vulnerable population” in homeless shelters and transitional housing, and immigrants who have challenges accessing online appointments, she said.
“We were able to serve all of the patients we have scheduled today, and we’re looking forward to welcoming them back” for the second shot at the Cross River Center vaccination site, she said. “We’re going to have a little Cinco De Mayo party, which is 21 days from now, for their second dose. We’re confident that we’ll have good adoption and good return of patients for their second dose.”
Hoey said Lowell General had delivered 6,828 Johnson & Johnson vaccines and has about 5,000 doses “on the sidelines.” She said the safety-based decision by federal regulators “took a tool out of our tool kit” but won’t cause a dramatic reduction in the vaccination effort in Lowell.
“We are very optimistic that Johnson & Johnson will be released for distribution soon,” she said. “We are hopeful we will be able to use that vaccine very soon. . . . We will just need to be creative.”
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