Oxford mobile clinic resumes with Moderna; St. Mary's mass clinic awaits word

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Portland Press Herald, Maine
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Apr. 13—Quynh Tran, a clinical pharmacist from The Public Health Commission Corps, prepares a vial of Moderna vaccine on Tuesday at the Mobile Vaccination Unit at the Oxford Casino. The clinic pivoted on Tuesday afternoon to administering the Moderna vaccine after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was halted following concerns raised by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Quynh Tran, a clinical pharmacist from the Public Health Commission Corps, removes vials of Moderna vaccine from refrigeration on Tuesday at the Mobile Vaccination Unit at the Oxford Casino. The clinic pivoted on Tuesday afternoon to administering the Moderna vaccine after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was halted because of concerns raised by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

OXFORD — The mobile vaccine clinic at the Oxford Casino had a momentary hiccup Tuesday morning and then resumed operations with the Moderna vaccine after federal officials recommended halting Johnson & Johnson vaccines because of rare blood clot concerns.

The mobile clinic, which started Monday, and a clinic expected to take place in Lewiston Tuesday by St. Mary's Regional Medical Center were suspended Tuesday morning following the federal recommendation. But Maine health officials were able to redirect Moderna vaccine to the Oxford site and vaccinations resumed there Tuesday afternoon.

State officials said vaccinations will continue there through Friday with the Moderna vaccine. After five days in Oxford, the FEMA mobile clinic will continue its schedule of visits to 10 Maine communities, Gov. Janet Mills said during the bi-weekly press briefing by the state's Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials will continue to reallot vaccine to the mobile clinic in coming weeks from other sites to ensure the mobile unit reaches people in rural and underserved places, Mills said.

When asked if that will mean canceled appointments at other clinics, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Labrew said no, that a reallotment of supply happens weekly and will continue.

If the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a long one, it could mean a slight slowdown in vaccinations, Mills said, explaining that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only accounts for a small amount of supply in Maine, "and we expect to get more Moderna and Pfzier."

The fate of a planned mass vaccination clinic in Lewiston over two or three days next week by St. Mary's is unknown as health officials decide how long the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be unavailable and whether other vaccine can be directed to the clinic.

Tuesday morning the U.S. CDC recommended clinics halt using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six cases of a rare but severe type of blood clot were reported in women who received the vaccine. The six women, ages 18 to 48, developed a serious blood clot six days to two weeks after they received the vaccine.

Of the 51,194 Johnson & Johnson vaccines given in Maine, the problem has not been seen, according to Nirav Shah, director of Maine's CDC. He said he has been asked by Mainers who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine what they should do and what they should expect.

He said they can expect flu-like symptoms including pain in the arm, fatigue and body aches.

"What we're talking about today is not that," he said at the briefing. "If you're in that (six days to two weeks) window and have symptoms of severe headache — and severe is the operative word," or severe shortness of breath, severe leg pain or severe abdominal pain, he said immediate medical care is needed.

Shah said the blood clot is "extremely rare, six cases in 6.8 million doses."

The reason for the pause, he said, is to alert the medical community on how to treat someone who may have developed a blood clot from the vaccine, because the usual treatment, the drug heparin, could actually be dangerous, Shah said.

Until more is understood, "this is just a pause, not chucking the (John & Johnson) doses out the window," Shah said, adding he'll learn more Wednesday afternoon from national experts.

Mills said she spoke with White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci Tuesday, who emphasized the pause "is to make sure physicians in very rare cases do not treat someone inappropriately."

Mills said the risk of getting a blood clot from the vaccine is small compared to getting COVID-19. Nationally, 31 million out of 331 million Americans have gotten the virus, "one out of every 10, or compare that to 1 out of 58 Americans who have died from COVID," she said.

Given the numbers, "there should be no reason for hesitancy because of this pause," Mills said.

For people whose vaccination appointments at Oxford were canceled, the state is working to contact people and reschedule, Lambrew said. Arrangements will be made to ensure those who get a Moderna vaccine at the mobile clinic will get their second Moderna dose, she said.

People whose appointments were canceled at the Oxford mobile clinic can call 1-888-445-4111 to reschedule.

The CDC statement said individuals with appointments to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at other clinics that were canceled Tuesday will hear from those clinics about rescheduling.

At St. Mary's, 417 people had appointments Tuesday afternoon and evening to receive a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. "We're in the process of contacting those people who had appointments," hospital spokesman Steve Costello said Tuesday morning. "We will be in touch with them to let them know when it will be rescheduled."

Those who had appointments for today, April 13, can call the hospital's main number at 777-8100, Costello said. "We will be back in touch with them when it gets rescheduled," he said. "We don't know what a rescheduled date will be at this time."

St. Mary's has 1,000 Johnson & Johnson doses on hand, 500 of which were to be used for Tuesday's clinic, with the remaining doses going to community agencies to vaccinate populations who are homebound or lack transportation. Those agencies include Androscoggin Home Health, the B Street Clinic, the Auburn Fire Department and United Ambulance.

Regarding the mass vaccination clinic St. Mary's planned for April 22 and 23 at Longley School, Costello said, "We're waiting to see what comes out in the next few days."