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West Virginia Unfazed by Pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

FILE - In this March 6, 2021, file photo, boxes stand next vials of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the pharmacy of National Jewish Hospital for distribution in Denver. U.S. health officials are weighing next steps as they investigate unusual blood clots in a small number of people given the vaccine -- a one-dose shot that many countries hoped would help speed protection against the pandemic. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

CHARLESTON — Health officials in West Virginia stressed Wednesday the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts are largely unaffected by the pause in the use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said the number of Johnson & Johnson vaccines in arms pales in comparison to the number of doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

“On the comparison level, the number of Johnson & Johnson vaccines are much smaller than the … number of vaccinations we’ve made with Pfizer and Moderna,” Marsh said.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met Wednesday to review a handful of rare blood clot cases linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause Tuesday in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations with West Virginia and Ohio following the recommendation.

According to Marsh, 98,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been sent to West Virginia through the state’s vaccination program and federal vaccination programs, with more than 58,000 doses in arms, 5% of the more than 1.1 million vaccine doses administered in West Virginia since Dec. 14, 2020, with 471,901 residents being fully vaccinated.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, making it the ideal choice for vaccination hard-to-reach populations, such as home-bound seniors and the disabled, rural communities, and the homeless.

“We have really been using Johnson & Johnson strategically for people who would perhaps be difficult to follow up on with a second dose of vaccination,” Marsh said. “We hope to get Johnson & Johnson back into our portfolios, because it does have the benefit of only having a single dose to allow us to fully vaccinate people.”

“A lot of our choices for vaccines are due to logistical issues,” Dr. Ayne Amjad, state health officer, said. “If people are willing to take vaccines and we have Pfizer and Moderna available, we’re going to offer that to anyone as well. Time saves lives, and vaccines are available.”

According to Wednesday’s update of the Department of Health and Human Resources Coronavirus dashboard, more than 26% of state residents are fully vaccinated, while more than 37 percent of residents either have one shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines which require two doses spread out over weeks.

Active COVID-19 cases are down slightly, from 7,470 active cases Sunday to 7,309 active cases Tuesday. Hospitalizations are coming down, from 280 hospitalizations last Thursday to 239 hospitalizations Tuesday. Use of intensive care unit beds are also down from 89 beds last Wednesday to 57 beds Tuesday.

The number of red counties on the County Alert System map dropped from three to two with the removal of Raleigh County due to an increase in testing there bringing down their percent of positivity. That leaves Boone and Berkeley counties in the red for high infection rates and percent of positivity.

DHHR reported 11 deaths since Monday’s briefing, including nine deaths reported Wednesday, ranging in age from 94 to 53.

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