The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is one of the first agencies in the country to start administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. This has highlighted the groundwork done by the department and various agencies that make up the county’s response team.
The vaccine is the third authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration during the pandemic. It is the only one-dose vaccine available to Americans. The flexibility of the one-shot vaccine bodes well for all Kanawha Countians, said Dr. Sherri Young, chief health officer for the Kanawha health department.
The department was selected to take part in a pilot program administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Young said, because of its track record in the pandemic on handling large and time-consuming emergency operations. It’s received around 800 doses, so far.
“We’ve been in this fight for almost a year together,” Young said, “so we’ve transitioned from everything from contact tracing to doing mass testing to doing mass vaccination clinics.”
Between the health department, Kanawha County’s various emergency operations agencies and the city of Charleston, Young said being chosen for the project is the result of this yearlong partnership. She said no one entity alone could have done anything even close to what the team has accomplished.
“It’s not a surprise to us that we were offered the opportunity for the pilot project, because we have led the way with [vaccinations], but we also want to be an example to other counties,” Young said. “We want to be an example to people all across the U.S. of what a community can come together and do, and that’s really where I think we shine.”
Nearly 67,000 people in Kanawha County had received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as of Friday, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. The next-highest total is in Monongalia County, which has administered less than 37,000 doses.
While Kanawha County is the highest populated county in the state, its people stretch for miles in every direction, with thousands of families hidden in hollows and along backroads. Young said some various populations across the county — elderly, homebound and people with housing insecurity — will be the main recipients of these one-dose vaccines.
“We do have a lot of indigent folks,” she said. “We have a lot of people who are homebound, we have multiple shelters where we’ve had previous outbreaks, and then we have a lot of the public still left wanting to be vaccinated.”
For the two-dose vaccinations, trying to execute planning for homebound people or people without permanent housing proved difficult, Young said. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also must be kept at colder temperatures, creating storage and transportation problems.
“It’s very difficult to time out — not only to go to someone’s house but to go back in 21 or 28 days — so it’s a true benefit to having a one-dose vaccine in the arsenal so that we can get to those people more quickly,” Young said.
And for the people coming to the regular weekend vaccination clinics at the Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be another option for the general public, she said.