ALBANY — The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines remain available in adequate supply in the Capital Region, public health officials said Tuesday.
So the federal government’s temporary pause on use of the third vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, should have limited short-term impact on the mass vaccination campaign that has reached as much as 46% of residents in some Capital Region counties.
More worrisome is the potential longer-term impact on public willingness to receive those vaccines, as a significant portion of the populace was reluctant to be vaccinated even before rare side effects of the J&J vaccine were reported.
Acting Schenectady County Public Health Director Keith Brown also noted that the image of the J&J vaccine recently suffered another setback after reports of quality control problems.
“And now this,” he said. “It is going to erode confidence both in Johnson & Johnson and in the vaccine in general.”
Six of the 6.8 million people who received the J&J vaccine are known to have sustained a serious but seemingly contradictory blood clotting situation — each had low levels of blood platelets, so they should have been less prone to clots. One of the six, all of whom are women, has died.
The Centers for Disease Control recommended but did not mandate that use of J&J vaccine be paused while recommendations for dealing with the rare side effect were drawn up.
New York state immediately paused its use of the J&J vaccine as did CVS, Walgreens and many of the other entities that have so far administered 12.25 million doses of COVID vaccine in New York.
More than 95% of those doses came from Pfizer and Moderna, which gained regulatory authorization months before J&J. Only 535,350 J&J doses have been administered in New York.
The advantage of J&J is that it’s a one-shot vaccine while Pfizer and Moderna require a followup shot three or four weeks after the first dose to achieve full effect. Also, Moderna and particularly Pfizer must be stored carefully, while J&J is more rugged.
As such, J&J was seen as valuable for reaching mobile and transient populations, and had been on deck for tens of thousands of New York college students who will soon be leaving campus for home.
However, J&J has been in short supply. Cross-contamination in late March resulted in the loss of a reported 15 million doses before they could be shipped out. So vaccination clinics already had ratcheted down their expectations of supply.
Only about 4,000 appointments for J&J vaccine were scheduled at state sites Tuesday, and only one site — Yankee Stadium — was making J&J appointments for Wednesday. Everyone with appointments both days will be offered Pfizer shots instead.
Locally, the situation was similar:
- Saratoga County officials called the near-term impact minimal, and said all J&J appointment holders this week will be offered Pfizer.
- Albany County had recently prioritized its large college population for vaccination and planned to use J&J doses. Those continued with Pfizer doses, though the move cut into other planned allocations of the 3,510 Pfizer doses the county received this week.
- The State University of New York said it was looking for alternatives for J&J doses and has already secured supplies in some cases.
- Schenectady County has yet to administer a single J&J dose — its first use was to come Friday. It will instead be offering Moderna doses to the 100 people who had made J&J appointments Friday.
Brown urged people to look beyond the headlines — “serious blood clots follow Johnson & Johnson vaccination” — to the numbers involved. Six instances of these blood clots are known to have resulted from 6.8 million doses administered, or less than 1 in 1 million.
By comparison, 31 million Americans (1 in 10) have been confirmed infected with COVID-19 since January 2020 and COVID is blamed for the deaths of 560,000 (1 in 591) Americans.
Brown said: “For us the real challenge is that we have been hearing from segments of the population that they were waiting for Johnson & Johnson.
“We’ve got people already who are skeptical.”
In other COVID news Tuesday:
- The University at Albany mass vaccination site — which has administered more than 150,000 doses since opening in January, will be relocating a short distance to the former Lord & Taylor space at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland. The new space is indoors, and will be less impacted by weather. It also will have a capacity of up to 6,000 shots per day, vs. 2,000 at University at Albany.
- The state set a new record high for doses of vaccine administered in a seven-day period: 1,590,537. As of midday Tuesday, 38.6% of New Yorkers had received at least one dose of vaccine and 25.5% were fully vaccinated.
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state is seeking to vaccinate farm and food production workers. Popup clinics will bring the vaccine to farms to serve the hard-to-reach migrant worker population, he said, and also will further the state’s efforts to increase vaccination rates for minority groups and undocumented immigrants.
- The seven-day positive COVID test rate stood at 3.2% statewide, 2.3% in the Capital Region and 1.8% in the Mohawk Valley. At the county level, the rates were Albany 2.5%, Fulton 3.8%, Montgomery 4.2%, Rensselaer 1.6%, Saratoga 3.3%, Schenectady 2.1% and Schoharie 2.5%.
- Statewide, 4,175 people were hospitalized with COVID, including 103 in the Capital Region and 59 in the Mohawk Valley.
- Fifty-eight new deaths, including one each in Rensselaer and Saratoga counties, bought the official state COVID death toll to 41,257.