Despite J&J pause, Covid vaccine clinics targeting farm workers, rural areas will go on as scheduled in Salem area

Moderna vaccine doses at a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Centennial Park in Woodburn, Ore. on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A pause on using the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine will temporarily mean fewer shots available in Salem, but Marion and Polk county providers said Tuesday they’re not canceling scheduled clinics or vaccination events.

The Oregon Health Authority on Tuesday ordered vaccine providers across the state to stop administering the J&J vaccine while a medical issue is investigated, following a recommendation from two federal agencies.

The vast majority of vaccines administered in the Salem area are the Pfizer and Moderna shots, both of which require two doses. The Pfizer vaccine is being used at Salem Health’s state fairgrounds vaccination clinic, the largest vaccination site in the region.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended the pause after receiving six reports of serious blood clots in women between 18 and 48 years old who had recently received the vaccine. That’s out of 6.8 million Americans so far vaccinated with J&J, and there’s no indication that the vaccine caused the clots.

The agencies are conducting a medical review to determine what role, if any, the vaccine may have played.

None of the six cases were in Oregon, said Dr. Paul Cieslak with the Oregon Health Authority during a media call Tuesday. He said the pause would not delay Oregon’s plan to make everyone 16 and older eligible for a Covid vaccine on April 19.

Cieslak said health agencies take the reports of clots “very seriously” but stressed that the events are rare and there’s no clear evidence the vaccine caused the clots.

“The vast majority of anyone who gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and even women who get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are at very low risk,” he said.

Cieslak said anyone who has recently received the vaccine should contact a doctor or seek emergency care if they develop a severe headache or sharp pain that could indicate a clot in the three weeks following their shot.

The women who reported clots experienced them between six and 14 days after receiving the vaccine.

To date, 5,087 people in Marion County and 987 people in Polk County have received the J&J vaccine, according to Oregon Health Authority data.

Salem Health has used the J&J vaccine for mobile vaccination events targeting rural areas, food processing plants, senior communities, homeless people and other groups who might have difficulty traveling to a vaccine site, spokeswoman Lisa Wood said.

Through the end of April, they had scheduled 660 J&J doses to be used at more than a dozen clinics across the region.

Wood said Salem Health substituted Pfizer vaccines for a Tuesday event and will pull doses of Pfizer or Moderna from mass vaccination sites for events where they’d planned to use the J&J shot.

“Salem Health’s vaccine program has contingency plans in place to ensure we do not delay the important work of reaching vulnerable, underrepresented, and rural populations with our mobile unit,” Wood said in an email.

The J&J vaccine requires only one dose and can be stored at refrigerated temperatures, making it easier to administer in remote settings or for people who would be difficult to contact and schedule for a follow-up appointment.

Woodburn Ambulance used about 200 doses of the J&J vaccine last week at events for migrant farm workers in Marion County, ambulance director Shawn Baird said. No future clinics were planned with remaining doses, so Baird said the pause won’t mean canceled events, but could delay future clinics targeting agricultural workers until the vaccine is reviewed.

The ambulance had scheduled fewer than 20 appointments this week for homebound people to get the J&J vaccine and canceled those, Baird said.

Marion County Health and Human Services received 400 doses of the J&J vaccine to use this week and was trying to secure other vaccines for planned events as of Tuesday afternoon, county spokeswoman Jolene Kelley said.

No planned vaccination events in Polk County were affected, county health administrator Jacqui Umstead said.

Most retail pharmacies offering the J&J vaccine, including Safeway, Walgreens and Fred Meyer, said Tuesday they would pause vaccinations and reach out to people with scheduled appointments so they could rebook appointments with another vaccine.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.