California officials directed counties and other providers on Tuesday to pause use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine following recommendations by federal agencies, which are examining potential side effects after six recipients, among millions, developed blood clots.
The sudden shortage of millions of vaccine doses has left some health providers scrambling to meet growing demand, as vaccine eligibility expands Thursday to everyone in the state ages 16 and older.
Alameda County says it may have to cancel some appointments due to supply shortfall.
"This week was kind of a blow. We had a reduction of about 35% overall [vaccine supplies]. And now this news about our inability to use the J&J [Johnson & Johnson] is making this a tough week," said Dr. Kathleen Clanon, medical director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, who oversees vaccination efforts.
The county has not had to cancel many appointments yet, she said, because it had already made fewer than usual, expecting a drop in supply.
"But we have thousands of people who are expecting to get vaccinated this week who will not be," she said.
Clanon said the county is scrambling to redistribute as much of the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as it can to clinics that have been using the J&J vaccine.
"We've been able to patch a lot of our appointments that way," she said. "Where we have to just outright cancel, we are letting people know by email and other mechanisms that this is not a 'No,' it's a 'Not yet,' and that we will be back to them with more information."
Because it only requires a single shot, the J&J vaccine has been particularly useful for inoculating certain vulnerable populations that are often hard to reach, like those who are homeless, incarcerated or homebound.
One clinic that had planned this week to give the J&J vaccine to transgender women of color will now be using the two-shot Moderna vaccine instead, Clanon said. Another effort to administer the vaccine to homebound seniors is now being put on hold.
"It's really breaking my heart that we have to change [those clinics]," Clanon said. "It's really hard. When you see people get vaccinated, they have really deep emotional responses of joy and relaxation. It's a huge deal, and then to have it delayed is really tough on them."
Clanon said it's important for people to "keep an open mind" and try to be patient, as the risks of the vaccine are assessed.
"Trying to get people to hold in their uncertainty and wait until we get more information is the toughest part of all," she said.
— Raquel Maria Dillon and Matthew Green