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Originally published in Castine Patriot, April 15, 2021 and Island Ad-Vantages, April 15, 2021 and The Weekly Packet, April 15, 2021
‘Pause” in J&J vaccine puts pop-up clinics on hold

COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020
Click here to see the full COVID-19 Local Updates Fall/Winter 2020.

by Leslie Landrigan

Local pop-up clinics were canceled or delayed on April 13 just hours after federal health officials advised a pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Six cases of a rare and severe kind of blood clot were reported in people in the United States who had gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised the pause.

April clinics in Sedgwick, Brooksville, Stonington and Deer Isle were put on hold until the FDA and CDC recommend otherwise.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been the most plentiful for the pop-up clinics, according to a statement by Northern Light Homecare & Hospice, which has been running the clinics along with area towns.

Since Maine is also facing a shortage of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, Northern Light had to reschedule the planned pop-up clinics, according to emails sent to the towns.

Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew urged anyone affected by the J&J pause to look around for another vaccine alternative. She spoke during a virtual news conference on April 13.

Michael Sheahan, Sedgwick’s first selectman, said the town had to postpone its clinic scheduled for April 21 at the Sedgwick Fire Station. How long the clinic will be delayed is unclear, he said in a phone interview.

Sheahan sent an email to people who had signed up for the Sedgwick clinic advising them to get a vaccine in Blue Hill, Ellsworth or Bangor.

“It seems there are plenty of opportunities to get a vaccine around here,” Sheahan said.

Locally, people can sign up for the Northern Light clinic at the former Family Dollar in Ellsworth, at Northern Light Blue Hill Hospital and at the Cross Center in Bangor. They can also go to retail pharmacy chains, including Shaw’s, Hannaford, Walmart and Walgreens. The Northern Light clinics in Blue Hill and Ellsworth administer the Moderna vaccine, according to Kelley Columber, Northern Light spokesperson, in an email.

Blood clots

Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said in a virtual news conference that the U.S. CDC’s scientific advisory committee planned to review the safety data on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 14. The problem, he said, is that the kind of blood clot that followed the vaccine isn’t treated the same way as other kinds of blood clots. One reason for the pause, he said, is to educate and inform health care providers about the way to identify and treat that blood clot, called a cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST).

Shah said the symptoms of CVST are severe headache, shortness of breath and pain in the abdomen and legs. They are very different from the flu-like symptoms some people feel right after getting the vaccine, and they occur six days to two weeks afterward, he said.

Shah also said none of cases of the rare blood clot had been identified in Maine. A total of 6.85 million J&J vaccines had been administered in the United States, he said, with 51,194 shots given in Maine.

Gov. Janet Mills, speaking during the same news conference, pointed out that one in 58 Americans died of COVID-19, compared to one in a million who suffered the CVST.

In other vaccine news

Shah said the state is asking the federal government for bigger shipments of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to make up for the disuse of the J&J vaccine. He said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine wouldn’t go bad while Maine waits for federal officials to give the go-ahead to use it again.

“This is not a chucking the doses out the window,” Shah said.

Maine ranks fifth in the United States in the number of residents vaccinated, according to the U.S. CDC’s data tracker. As of April 13, one in three Mainers has received the final shot of COVID-19 vaccine, Shah said, and 46 percent have gotten at least one shot.

Some Mainers have gotten the virus after they were fully vaccinated, he said. Known as breakthrough cases, there were 64 late last week. Many reported mild symptoms and some reported no symptoms, he said.

However, Shah said he was concerned about a recent increase in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. The average age of people hospitalized dropped to 35 years old from 43 a few months ago. More contagious strains of COVID-19 are also driving new cases, he said. He reported over 500 new cases on April 13, though some of those resulted from a backlog in reporting.

“The entire pandemic has been a series of unending challenges,” said Shah.