Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause causes issues for rural S.C. pharmacies

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 10:51 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A lot of our rural pharmacies relied on the convenience of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to vaccinate harder-to-reach communities. Now just like the vaccine, their plans are on pause.

“We’re all in a waiting mode and just waiting on the CDC and FDA to kind of figure all of it out,” said Zoom Heaton, chief pharmacist, and owner of TLC Pharmacy.

TLC Pharmacy in Aiken has been vaccinating people for weeks with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“And then all of a sudden there’s this pause,” said Heaton. We had 1,500 sign-ups. So, there were a lot of people who were very interested in it a lot of them actually said we were waiting on it... They said it was a stroke of luck getting immunity in one dose but this week the luck ran out,” Heaton said.

On Monday, the CDC and FDA announced an immediate pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six women developed severe blood clots days after getting the vaccine. Even though that’s six out of seven million people who’ve received it, healthcare experts say this was the right move.

For distributors like TLC, that means canceling appointments and holding off on the progress.

“And there were so many people calling us saying ‘well gosh can we still get it anyway,” Heaton said. “But then there were some people that called and said you know ‘cancel it because I’m terrified.’”

More than 12,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been given in Georgia and more than 85,000 in South Carolina.

In Augusta, the CEO of Medical Associates Plus says they had to put a hold on their plan to use their mobile unit to vaccinate hard-to-reach populations like the homeless.

“Let’s be optimistic about this, and not be afraid, until the data comes out for sure,” Heaton said.

While those doses wait in the freezer, both healthcare providers at TLC and Medical Associates Plus say their next concern is fighting hesitancy. Both say they feel certain people will be wary of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine even if and when it’s cleared again.

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