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Vaccination Sites Rush To Find Alternatives To J&J COVID-19 Vaccine


President Biden's administration insisted that a pause in giving out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of a safety concern should not affect the overall effort to vaccinate Americans. Now clinics are rushing to make that promise come true and find alternatives. Will Stone reports.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Johnson & Johnson was just becoming a fixture of vaccine clinics around the country after its approval at the end of February. About 7 million Americans have received that vaccine, compared with more than 180 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer. But there was growing enthusiasm for the J&J vaccine. It only requires one shot and is easier to store. Now some vaccine providers are scrambling.

THOMAS FARLEY: We will have to curtail some of the clinics where we planned to use Johnson & Johnson.

STONE: That's Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. On Tuesday, a mass vaccine site in his city shut down for the day. It had been successfully reaching communities of color, which have much lower vaccination rates than whites in Philadelphia. And Farley says smaller neighborhood clinics also had the J&J vaccine.

FARLEY: Those are going to be canceled until we can make other arrangements.

STONE: Many places called off vaccine events for the day. Ohio is halting more than six of its mass vaccine sites for the week. Large retail pharmacies are also being affected. For now, many clinics can backfill with Moderna and Pfizer. Beth Wrobel is the CEO of HealthLinc, a community health center in Indiana where about 1,300 people were set to get the J&J vaccine this week.

BETH WROBEL: We had a lot wanting to know what are we going to do? So we've contacted those patients and said we're going to switch to Moderna.

STONE: Wrobel says they're pulling from next week's supply, but she hopes people still show up. Their patients had been eager to get the J&J shot.

WROBEL: You know, are you guys doing the J&J? Can we get the J&J?

STONE: But some places were solely relying on that vaccine as a way to reach vulnerable groups, people who may not be able to show up for a second shot. Karen Piatt is with Medical Teams International, which had planned to bring its mobile clinic to vaccinate families without housing in the Seattle area.

KAREN PIATT: It's sort of a wait and see at this point to see when we can get these supplies. Otherwise, we'll have to cancel.

STONE: Some states have also directed the J&J vaccine to prisons and seasonal farm workers, as well as rural underserved areas. Across the country, governors are trying to reassure the public. Here's Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.


ANDY BESHEAR: Stay calm. It looks like the risk here is very, very small versus the really significant risk of being harmed by COVID. They're being careful.

STONE: Many states were already expecting a drop-off in their J&J shipments in the coming weeks due to production issues.

MARCUS PLESCIA: It's not causing kind of an immediate crisis.

STONE: Dr. Marcus Plescia is with the association which represents state health directors.

PLESCIA: But if you hold for a long time, you know, it just continues to sort of simmer out there as having problems with it.

STONE: He hopes this pause won't shake Americans' trust in the vaccine and instead reassures them the system is working.

For NPR News, I'm Will Stone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "DYING LIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
Will Stone
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