L.A. County prepping to resume administering Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Luke Money, Colleen Shalby
·4 min read
Los Angeles, CA - April 15: A detail of Janssen Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine that is not currently being given out because it has been put on hold. It was the first day that people ages 16 and up can receive a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine at Kedren Health on Thursday, April 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Award-winning television producer, Marti Noxon, who's a big fan of Kedren Vaccines, sent an In-N-Out truck to feed 200+ volunteers who help make this vaccine program such a huge success and she did so on the day that vaccines are being made available to all people 16+ in Los Angeles. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Federal health agencies officially lifted the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, also known as Janssen, which had been in limbo for more than a week due to instances of rare blood clots. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County is ready to once again administer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after federal health agencies on Friday officially lifted the pause that's kept those doses in limbo for more than a week.

Vaccine providers could resume administering doses on Saturday, as long as an updated fact sheet about the vaccine was distributed to recipients, the county announced.

"We don’t want to delay. We want to resume using the J&J vaccine," Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the L.A. County Department of Public Health said during a briefing.

The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup — which includes public health experts from California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington — was set to discuss potentially lifting the pause locally Friday afternoon, according to a spokesperson from the California Department of Public Health.

However, L.A. County won't exactly have a robust supply to work with in the near term. Simon estimated there are about 13,000 available J&J doses in the county's network, with maybe an additional 25,000 in the hands of other providers in the region.

"There is some reserve here that we can begin using immediately, but it's very uncertain what the ongoing deliveries will be given the shortfall in manufacturing," he said.

Simon said the county has been working on developing additional educational materials for clients and providers that will explain and contextualize the clotting issue that prompted the temporary stoppage on April 13.

Those will "include what we think is really important information about what to look for — the signs and symptoms if you were to have this, again, very rare reaction," he said. "And we are going to underscore this is a very rare reaction."

The pause stemmed from six cases of a rare and perplexing clotting disorder seen among recipients of the single-shot vaccine. The number of such reactions rose to 15 when safety experts reviewed records of adverse reactions.

Just over 8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered nationwide, federal figures show.

Still unknown at this point is how halting the use of the vaccine may have changed the public view of its safety, and whether that will ultimately deal a setback to the county's inoculation campaign at a critical moment.

“It’s still not entirely clear how much of a setback this has been,” Simon said, adding, “We don’t want to see vaccine shopping. We really want to see people get the first vaccine available to them.”

Initially, it appeared the Johnson & Johnson pause couldn't have come at a worse time — only two days before California opened vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older, which officials feared could trigger an overwhelming wave of demand.

But that hasn't yet materialized, at least not in L.A. County. High amounts of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have continued to flow in, and supplies have been plentiful enough that the county is now offering limited numbers of walk-up appointments at its mass vaccination sites.

Simon said there are several reasons why demand could be tailing off.

For starters, given the relatively rosy nature of the coronavirus metrics in the county and statewide, some people may not feel the same urgency to be inoculated. Others may have recently been infected with COVID-19 and feel that they're already adequately protected.

It's also possible that the county, which state records show has administered nearly 6.9 million doses to date, has already worked its way through most of the people who were eager to get vaccinated, and that those who are left may be more uncertain, resistant or willing to wait a bit longer.

"We're watching this very closely," Simon said. "As we increase vaccination rates across the county population, we're increasingly going to have a reservoir of unvaccinated people who increasingly will be less interested in being vaccinated, and I think that group includes a broad spectrum of people. Some, I would say, may be hard noes. 'Absolutely not. I don't want to be vaccinated.' We don't think that's a large percentage, but there are those out there in that camp. And then there are others that I would describe as softer noes. They are noes right now, but they may be persuaded otherwise."

Times staff writer Melissa Healy contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.