Despite a national pause of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine due to concerns about rare blood clots, the Frederick County Health Department received its largest shipment to date this week of first doses.
The 5,200 first doses received were largely a byproduct of the transition this week of the vaccination clinic at Frederick Community College to a state-supported mass vaccination site. The shipment included 500 J&J shots, up from the 200 or so per week it had been receiving.
The FCC clinic is still run by the county health department on an appointment-only basis. But the state-supported status means more doses for the site since anyone 16 and older in Maryland is eligible to be vaccinated there.
Still, Tuesday’s national pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a ripple effect on the vaccination effort in the county. Community clinics in Brunswick and Emmitsburg this week were canceled, according to County Executive Jan Gardner. The health department hopes to reschedule them.
Those types of clinics rely heavily on the J&J shot since they are mobile, traveling from community to community, and people who get vaccinated there don’t have to return for a second shot.
“We don’t know yet what the long-term outcome will be,” Gardner said Thursday morning about the Johnson & Johnson pause.
It’s also unclear how long the pause will last. The blood-clot data associated with the vaccine is being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
The potentially dangerous clots were found in six women anywhere from six to 13 days after they were vaccinated. Almost seven million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S., nearly all of them with no or only mild side effects.
Similar reports of rare blood clots in Europe last month prompted a days-long pause on the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, which has not yet been authorized for use in the U.S.
On the Johnson & Johnson shot, Gardner said, “The benefit of the one-shot delivery system was that it helped us [vaccinate] rural communities, vulnerable communities, homebound residents and others much more easily. I think the effort to vaccinate college students was hoping to use the one-shot system as well because, nationally, there is a hope to do college students before they report, which in our case included Hood and Mount St. Mary’s.”
Without J&J shots being administered, vaccine allocations have been shifted around to keep clinics running.
Aside from the site at FCC, the county health department saw its weekly allocation of doses drop from 2,300 to 1,700 this week, and it didn’t receive its normal shipment of 200 J&J shots.
Meanwhile, Frederick Health Hospital had its allocation cut from 1,070 doses to 100 this week, according to Gardner.
It’s unclear how allocations were affected for the numerous private-sector providers in the county.
Overall, the county wound up with more weekly doses than it had before, due to the state support at FCC.
“But not as much as we had hoped,” Gardner said. “And we are still not using all of our capacity at the community college.”
The Frederick County Health Department announced Thursday it was changing the registration process for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Anyone 16 and over can now sign up at Maryland’s pre-registration system at onestop.md.gov/preregistration.
The change will allow people to go to one website to sign up for an appointment from the Frederick County Health Department and other vaccine sites that are state-operated or state-supported.
Appointments will still be required at clinics run by the county health department.
The health department will still send appointment invitations to anyone who previously completed a Frederick County Vaccine Interest Form until everyone on the list has been offered an appointment.
Invitations will also be sent for appointment at vaccine clinics run by the county health department to anyone that signed up through the state system.