Vaccine
A Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Lakewood on March 31. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Vaccine Watch

‘We should be fine’: Even with J&J on pause, Santa Cruz on track to vaccinate entire county by mid-July

Despite the pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, one Santa Cruz health official says the county is on track for widespread vaccination by the end of the summer.

Despite the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being put on pause indefinitely while health officials investigate six reports of blood clots in patients, Santa Cruz County deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci today told Lookout that Santa Cruz County is on track to offer a vaccine to everyone 16 and over in Santa Cruz County by late July.

“By the end of summer, even without the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, if we can continue at the same pace we should be fine,” Ghilarducci said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has so far made up a relatively small portion — about 2% — of the vaccine administered in the county. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday that Johnson & Johnson has accounted for only about 4% of the vaccine administered statewide so far.

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Yet despite Johnson & Johnson having played a small role since its approval, it had been expected to increase steadily.

“I think it’s a little bit misleading to say that it’s only a small part of it now because it was projected to be a bigger part going forward,” Ghilarducci said. “As the state expanded eligibility, a big part of that was anticipated Johnson & Johnson supply.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to store and administer than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. The fact that it only requires one dose is important for several populations in Santa Cruz, including farmworkers, and people experiencing homelessness who may have difficulty making contact with healthcare providers for the second dose.

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“It’s going to be putting more pressure on the Pfizer supplies and the Moderna supplies going forward,” Ghilarducci said. “[Johnson & Johnson] was going to be an important part of our vaccination plan. Every one of these doses is worth two of the other [vaccines].”

The county currently has 2,634 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses on hand. Some of those were going to be used for a clinic at the Homeless Persons Healthcare Project, but some of the two-dose vaccines will now be used instead.

Several local pharmacies, including Horsnyder’s, Westside Pharmacy, and Costco, had all planned to administer Johnson & Johnson vaccines this week, and those appointments are now on hold.

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While the reported side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are serious, Ghilarducci pointed out that they are rare, and that it remains “an effective vaccine that eliminates the risk of a very deadly virus.” But he acknowledged that balancing the risks and benefits will be difficult.

“It’s really an epidemiological and a public health question, but also it’s going to boil down to, is anybody going to accept this vaccine? The perception of this risk is going to probably be more important than the actual risk.” Ghilarducci said.