A pause in the use of a COVID-19 vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson will not hamper ongoing state vaccination efforts, since it accounts for only a fraction of total vaccine doses received by the state, state officials said Wednesday.
Dr. Ayne Amjad, state Public Health officer, said West Virginia has received a total of 98,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and administered 54,000 doses, a small portion of the more than 1.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have been administered in the state to date.
She said local health officials are monitoring women who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the past two weeks, and said no issues have been reported to date.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration recommended Tuesday that states temporarily pause use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while they investigate six cases where women developed unusual blood clots days after receiving the vaccine.
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University and state COVID-19 czar, said the pause will give scientists time to determine if there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots, and to give medical experts time to develop treatment protocols for such clots.
He said the clots are unusual, in that the women also had low blood platelet levels, suggesting that the normal use of blood thinners to treat blood clots may not be appropriate in these cases.
“They’re acting out of an abundance of caution,” said Marsh, noting that the cases are literally one in a million, since more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered nationwide.
State officials said there is concern that publicity about pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may increase vaccine hesitancy in the state, at a time when average daily numbers of vaccinations are lagging.
According to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ COVID-19 dashboard, total vaccine doses administered per day have not topped 10,000 in April, after peaking at more than 20,000 doses administered on March 19.
Marsh called on all West Virginians who are eligible but have not been vaccinated yet to do so, particularly with new, more infectious and potentially deadlier variants on the rise.
“It is really a critical time,” Marsh said.
State officials have expressed concern in recent days about vaccine hesitancy among the nearly 1.2 million West Virginians who have yet to receive even least one dose of vaccine.
Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday the state is continuing efforts to encourage residents to get vaccinated through advertising, social media, and the thrice-weekly briefings.
“Wouldn’t it be terrible if the only way we could convince them is to have more people die?” he asked.
A March 30 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that vaccine hesitancy is highest among Republicans and evangelical Christians, with 30% of each group saying they “definitely will not” get vaccinated.
Marsh said the state is working with faith-based organizations, including the state Council of Churches, to try to overcome vaccine concerns among their members. He said the key to success of immunization efforts nationally will be reaching out to those not yet vaccinated, either because of lack of access or lack of education about the vaccines.
“The success of each state is going to depend on being able to reach these people,” he said.
Meanwhile, despite ostensibly being a COVID-19 briefing, Justice devoted a considerable amount of time Wednesday to continuing to tout his plan to cut state personal income taxes and shift tax burden to sales and consumption taxes, while continuing to fume over a 0-100 rejection vote in the House of Delegates last Friday that killed the tax plan for the 2021 regular session.
“I could give a hoot in every way about their grandstanding tactic,” he said of the House’s perhaps unprecedented rebuke. “Their grandstanding, and showing their behind really just mooned our people. That’s what they really did.”
Justice also concluded that interest in a program to pay remote workers $12,000 to relocate to Morgantown is proof that his tax plan would succeed in drawing large numbers of people to the state.
“I hope and pray our House comes to the realization of good sense. Just think of what we missed,” Justice said.
He said the website for the Ascent West Virginia program, funded by Intuit executive director Brad Smith, received more than 65,000 inquiries and more than 2,000 completed applications in the first 48 hours since the program was announced.
The program has 50 slots for people relocating to Morgantown.