PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After a federally recommended pause, Rhode Island is expected to resume the administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week, though shots are not expected to be widely circulated at first.
On Monday, the R.I. Department of Health announced the state will resume offering the single-dose shot after a two-week pause.
The state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee discussed the single-dose shot at its biweekly meeting Tuesday morning, as well as continued efforts to vaccinate those living in high-density communities, and outreach to minority communities.
The state is starting to shift its focus from Phase 2 to Phase 3, where health officials say the objective will be to support herd immunity milestones and have the overall goal of maximizing vaccinations in Rhode Island.
“We are shifting to inflection point where supply begins to become greater than demand,” Chief of the Office of Immunization Tricia Washburn said. “It will be critical to utilize what we’ve adapted in Phase 2 to be efficient, but also using an approach where we’re meeting people where they are.”
Washburn says some of the Phase 3 vaccination efforts include working with the higher institutes of education, businesses, high-density communities and community-based organizations, faith based organizations and eventually healthcare providers.
In their first, joint sit-down since taking office, Gov. Dan McKee and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos spoke with 12 News about several topics, including further outreach to communities having difficulties with accessing the vaccine.
“Whether it’s in the Foster/Glocester area, or whether we’re in the Valley Falls area or South County or Aquidneck Island, we’re ready to take our vaccinations on the road,” McKee said this week.
Appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will again be available on www.VaccinateRI.org this week according to the Health Department, and people can still make appointments by calling 211.
A Walgreens spokesperson told 12 News the pharmacy plans to “make Johnson & Johnson vaccines available early this week.” CVS also plans to resume usage of the shot.
Prior to the pause, Rhode Island health officials anticipated getting about 700 doses per week. Additionally, the state had about 7,200 doses on hand, though health officials say that supply includes doses allocated for a federal pharmacy partnership.
“So, it will be relatively small, but the amount of Pfizer and Moderna will clearly outstrip what we have for the J&J vaccine,” Washburn said.
The pause was announced April 13 after reports of six women developed a rare, but severe type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), up to two weeks after vaccination.
During the pause, the reports were reviewed by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Following additional reviews, by medical professionals and scientists at both agencies, the CDC and the FDA determined the vaccine’s benefits outweighed any potential risks, and it is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19. However, a warning is now listed on J&J’s Emergency Use Authorization.
Dr. Will Giordano-Perez, a subcommittee member, explained how his small vaccine clinic was impacted during the pause. He says a sign had to be posted explaining the J&J vaccine was not being offered.
“We were getting maybe one out of every ten people coming in for their vaccine, wanting to be really clear, ‘I’m not getting the one that causes blood clots, right? I’m not getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?” Giordano-Perez recalled.
He and other subcommittee members also questioned with a limited supply of the single-dose shot, how much effort should be put towards messaging about it.
”I worry if most of our attention is put towards a vaccine where we’re only getting 700 of them a week for the entire state, that we’re kind of going to distract people from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines…and just slow the whole process down,” he added.
According to federal health officials, about 7 million doses of the J&J vaccine were administered in the U.S. prior to the pause, while the health department said a little more than 31,000 doses of the single-dose vaccine were administered in Rhode Island.
According to the Health Department, there had been no reported cases of CVST among people vaccinated with the J&J shot in Rhode Island.
Rhode Island healthcare providers have been provided with information and guidance about CVST and appropriate medical treatment.
The Health Department said while the side effects of concern are extremely rare, both the FDA and CDC recommend people who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to immediately contact their health care provider.