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Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause causes additional anxiety

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On normal days, the gym at this Indianapolis school would be filled with students in physical education classes. But on April 10 it was the scene of a pop-up vaccination clinic.

And the mood was just as upbeat. One nurse brought her husband to KIPP Indy Legacy High School to get vaccinated — to cheers from everyone around.

At the entrance to the gym, volunteers used laptops to help people check in. Most got their shots without a wait. After all, community workers had pre-registered 200 area residents to make the experience as easy as possible.

“We went to stores; we could do it easily on our phone,” said Angelia Moore, vice president of the Edna Martin Christian Center, which helped organize the clinic. “So we had a team that if someone said they didn’t know how, we helped them do it. We called and did it for them.”

Martindale-Brightwood has been hit hard by COVID-19. So the local KIPP charter school, Community Health Network and the Edna Martin Christian Center worked together on the clinic.

It was designed to help people who found it hard to sign up for a vaccine — and residents who were reluctant to get a vaccine. Like 22-year-old Desta Dauwitt Ricketts.

On April 10, he rolled up his sleeve for a shot. The clinic used the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which calls for a single shot and is more convenient for many working people. Many residents who came in the clinic had waited for a single-dose vaccine because of that convenience. Having trusted community organizations and partners bring a clinic to their area was an added incentive.

“The shot was really easy, 1-2-3,” Ricketts said at the clinic. “And I’m just kind of ready to get this thing moving along, so that we can have a better future.”

His mood has changed now that the federal government has called for a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Health officials say there have been reports of very rare, but severe blood clots in six women ages 18 to 48.

Ricketts is worried about family members who also got the Johnson & Johnson shot.

“I don’t really care about myself, personally,” he said. “I really care about my little sister, my mom that got the Johnson & Johnson, especially my mom.”

He’s having second thoughts about his own shot, too.

“It is kind of scary. And I do … feel like maybe I shouldn’t have got it. I should have just stuck to my gut and not got it.”

Health experts have worked hard to overcome vaccine hesitancy. Now, they’re worried that problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could set their efforts back.

“If we offer Johnson & Johnson in the near future, would they come out?” Community Health Network Vice President Dawn Moore asked. “Probably not as wholeheartedly as they did before.”

Community is getting in touch with its clinics that used the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It’s providing information about trouble signs and symptoms of blood clots.
Meanwhile, Moore notes the pandemic has pushed health care professionals to act quickly — with vaccines authorized for emergency use. Still, she said people should get their shots.

“I do not want individuals to use this as a reason not to get vaccinated,” she said. “We have not found these issues at all with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.”

She adds that having the FDA put a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shows the level of transparency in the vaccination process. It’s also a testament to how efficiently cases are being monitored to ensure vaccine safety, she said.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine brings the potential for trouble.

“I think unfortunately, I think it could have a major impact,” said Caine, who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “So, for those people who are sort of straddling the line, not sure about getting a vaccine, I think it’s definitely going to take a hit.”

And, she said, that could have a significant impact for Black Americans — an increase in COVID’s death toll.

This story was reported as part of a partnership between WFYI, Side Effects Public Media and the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact Farah Yousry at fyousry@wfyi.org or 857-285-0449. Follow her on Twitter @Farah_Yoursrym.

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