Apr. 29—Despite Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine once again being cleared for use, Keene's vaccination site has no plans to carry it. Instead, the region's doses will be used for harder-to-reach populations, according to an area public health official.
The pause on the one-shot vaccine was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on April 13, after an extremely rare blood clotting disorder was found in 15 women between the ages of 18 and 59 who had gotten the shot. Of those, three died, according to news reports.
The 15 cases represent 0.0002 percent of the more than 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines that had been administered nationally.
The pause was lifted April 23, after federal agencies reviewed the data and determined the benefits of having another COVID-19 vaccine available outweighs this rare risk.
"I don't think there's anyone who shouldn't be getting it," said Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene. "There was definitely a concern when these cases came to light ... and having gone through all the pros and cons, we know that this [vaccine] could be associated with a rare side effect of blood clots, but at the same time, the risks of COVID are just as much or even more."
As of Thursday, 574,000 people nationally had died due to COVID-19, according to the latest data.
New Hampshire is deciding which of its 10 fixed vaccination sites will receive Johnson & Johnson doses, based on availability, according to Tricia Zahn, director of the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network, which is running Keene's site on Krif Road.
On Sunday, three sites — in Concord, Nashua and Newington — will be offering the one-dose vaccine.
But at Keene's Krif Road site, there are no plans to offer it, according to Zahn, who said the site has offered only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to date.
Instead, the local public health network will use its Johnson & Johnson allotment for home visits, senior-living communities and people experiencing homelessness.
Because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needs just one dose, Zahn said it's a much better option for these populations than the other two vaccines, which require two doses.
"The [rationale] for this is to remove any unnecessary barriers for folks to be fully vaccinated which happens two weeks after one J&J vaccine," Zahn said in an email.
She added that the state's supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccines is limited, so it doesn't make sense for Keene to carry it at the fixed site.
"Instead of having ~50 J&J vaccines provided arbitrarily to folks with appointments there during a weeklong period," she said by email, "we save the J&J doses for those who have other barriers."
The public health network — which covers all of Cheshire County and the 10 westernmost communities in Hillsborough County — had 300 doses left of its current Johnson & Johnson allocation as of Wednesday, Zahn said, when it resumed distributing it to people who are homebound.
The public health network's mobile teams, which are vaccinating these hard-to-reach groups, have been giving Johnson & Johnson vaccinations to them since mid-March, she added.
Those who are unable to leave their home to be vaccinated can call 2-1-1 to request a home visit, according to Zahn.
Vaccine outreach for people experiencing homelessness will be done through area agencies that work with that population, she said, such as the Hundred Nights shelter and Southwestern Community Services, both in Keene.
Separately, the Cheshire County jail is considering whether to switch to Johnson & Johnson, after starting to vaccinate inmates with the Moderna vaccine on April 15. The jail had originally planned to use the one-dose shot, but had to pivot at the last minute because of its pause, according to Superintendent Doug Iosue.
While people cannot choose which vaccine they receive, those who do not want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — or any other vaccine — can decline and see if any other options are available that day.
The Greater Monadnock Public Health Network's mobile teams will have mostly Johnson & Johnson doses, according to Zahn, but Pfizer will usually also be an option.
She added that those who've been given the Johnson & Johnson shot so far have been agreeable to receiving it.
"We haven't had the pushback that some folks were expecting," she said, "and so we are continuing on with saying 'The best vaccine is the available vaccine.' "
Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.