Lucas County residents still willing to receive Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Kaitlin Durbin, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
·5 min read

May 3—In determining its future use in Lucas County, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine seems to have passed its first test.

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department over the weekend offered the vaccine for the first time since the 10-day pause on the Janssen-made J&J brand was lifted as a way to gauge local interest in receiving it, and residents didn't appear to be deterred.

The county administered 475 J&J doses on Friday and Saturday during clinics at the Lucas County Recreation Center, Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski said. That number compares to the 409 residents who received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in the same week.

"What that kind of tells me is there is still a desire for Johnson & Johnson," Mr. Zgodzinski said, adding that more of the one-dose clinics will be planned going forward.

The Wood County Health Department has predominantly offered only Pfizer as a way to ensure second doses are available to anyone who needs them, but it also is going to test interest in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, its health commissioner, Ben Robison, said.

A J&J clinic will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday at the Bowling Green office, 1840 E. Gypsy Lane Rd., "for anyone who wants the single-dose COVID-19 vaccine," a notice shared on social media said. Walk-ins will be welcome.

"We're going to use this as an indicator of how to move forward," Mr. Robison said. "We've had some targeted interest among businesses, but we don't know what community-wide interest is."

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Officials have worried that the investigation into rare blood clots found in a small number of female Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients might discourage people from receiving it, or any vaccine. Uptake in the community was starting to wane prior to the pause.

But if Friday and Saturday's vaccination clinics in Lucas County are any indication, residents who do want a shot aren't showing a strong preference among the three vaccine brands.

The parking lot outside the Rec Center on Friday was noticeably bare compared with a couple weeks before, when the clinic offered only Pfizer doses, but Jennifer Gottschalk, the health department's environmental health supervisor, said walk-ins had been steady all day. When they first opened, there was a line, she said.

"We've actually had a good turnout," Ms. Gottschalk said. "It's been a constant trickle."

Those in attendance represented every gender and age group.

Siblings Sean, 23, and Ian, 19, Adkins called it luck of the draw that they ended up at the clinic on the day it was administering Johnson & Johnson. They would have accepted any brand; other family members had already received either Pfizer or Moderna.

Getting the shot had never been a priority for the brothers — they consider themselves relatively low-risk for severe disease based on their age and health, they said — but Sean Adkins is graduating from the University of Toledo this month and moving out-of-state soon after. If getting a shot is inevitable, they thought, then this was as good a time as any.

"It's just a necessary part of life," the elder brother said. "I was more worried about my parents and brother and keeping them safe than any risk from the vaccine."

Every other resident approached at the clinic said they actually preferred the Johnson & Johnson shot and had been specifically waiting to receive it.

Nick Norvell, 58, travels across the country working in the recycling and packaging industry and couldn't commit to being back in three to four weeks for a second dose, so J&J offered convenience.

The limitations of the two-dose vaccines is one of the reasons he almost decided against being vaccinated at all — that and the fact that in a year of traveling and, admittedly, not always wearing a mask, he'd never tested positive for the virus. Sitting at the Rec Center waiting his 15 minutes after receiving the J&J shot, he still wasn't convinced that masks or vaccines are necessary, but he'd rather err on the side of caution.

"Because if I do get COVID, I think it [the vaccine] will help me not to die from it," Mr. Norvell said. "I'm a life-long smoker, so I think if I was to get it, it would be the end of me."

Mother of three Amanda Hileman, 37, didn't want to deal with the logistics of having to find someone to watch her children if she had to come back for a second dose. As a breastfeeding mother, she also felt the potential risks and side effects of the J&J shot were less than the other two.

"If you actually do the research, you have a far higher risk of blood clots taking birth control than the vaccine," she said. "I understood the concerns [behind the pause], but when I looked at the facts it didn't make sense not to get it, especially if people are still willing to take birth control."

Melinda Fletcher, a 53-year-old yoga enthusiast, also researched the J&J vaccine and said she felt its ingredients appeared more natural.

"I wasn't in a huge hurry [to get the vaccine] but there just comes a point where you could be harming others with the other variants and strains out there," she said. "[Johnson & Johnson] just seemed like the lesser of the evils."

Of the roughly 11,000 Johnson & Johnson doses administered in Lucas County and 700 in Wood County so far, none have resulted in serious side effects or blood clot concerns, the respective health commissioners said.

As of Monday, 171,244 total Lucas County residents and 59,809 Wood County residents have received at least one shot, the state's vaccination dashboard showed. Ages 65 and older all had more than 70 percent compliance.

"One of the things that was important about the pause was that it allowed for additional review of data and gave consumers additional time to research whether it is right for them," Mr. Robison said. "If somebody is still concerned about Johnson & Johnson there are two other vaccines available for which the J&J concerns are not an issue."

First Published May 3, 2021, 4:22pm