Despite shelving around 2,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, the Sangamon County Department of Public Health won’t have trouble supplying planned vaccination clinics in the coming weeks, according to department director Gail O’Neill.
The county is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health to pause the vaccine’s use as federal authorities investigate whether there’s a causal link between the vaccine and rare blood clotting reported in six people out of nearly 7 million Americans who got a Johnson & Johnson shot.
The Sangamon County health department had been using the single-dose shots to vaccinate residents in rural and other hard-to-reach communities with a mobile unit staffed by the Illinois National Guard. The department continued with its planned schedule of visits Tuesday, with a site set up at Abundant Faith Christian Center in Springfield, but used Pfizer BioNTech doses.
“Because of the National Guard site at the [Illinois State] Fairgrounds, we do have a lot of Pfizer vaccines, so we will not have a shortage of that,” O’Neill said. The mobile unit has scheduled visits for the next three weeks, and will continue to use the Pfizer vaccine.
The health department has around 20,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on hand, O’Neill said, most of which are earmarked for the mass vaccination site at the state fairgrounds. That site is open to any Illinois resident 16 and older, and there are available appointments on the county health department’s website. The health department has another 6,000 doses of Moderna vaccine for the drive-thru clinic at its office on South Grand Avenue.
HSHS Medical Group announced Monday COVID-19 vaccinations are available to anyone 16 and older without an appointment at its clinic in the Scheels parking lot, 1118 Legacy Pointe Drive in Springfield. The clinic is offering the Pfizer vaccine and is open this Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
O’Neill said the health department has also offered Pfizer doses to other health providers in the area to replace their shelved doses of the J&J vaccine.
Memorial Health System’s walk-in vaccine clinics operated in partnership with Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Molina Healthcare will go forward as planned with the Pfizer vaccine instead of Johnson & Johnson doses. The clinics will operate on Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at MERCY Communities, and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Boys and Girls and Clubs of Central Illinois.
The day before the CDC and FDA advised pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Memorial administered 60 J&J doses at a walk-in clinic at Hope Springs Apartments in Springfield, according to a health system spokesperson.
“We have stopped using Johnson & Johnson until we get further guidance and clarification from the CDC,” said Dr. Rajesh Govindaiah, chief medical officer of Memorial health. “With that said, this appears to be an extremely rare side effect of the vaccination.”
Memorial’s drive-thru vaccination clinic, at 2925 S. Sixth Street in Springfield, is not affected by the change as it offers the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Appointments can be made on Memorial’s website. The scheduler indicates which vaccine the person will receive.
Govindaiah pointed out that more than 170 million doses of the vaccines have been given nationwide. “You give that many vaccine doses, you are going to see some rare side effects. But generally speaking, by and large, this is an extraordinarily safe vaccine,” he said.
Memorial canceled vaccination events at Abraham Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln for Wednesday and Taylorville Memorial Hospital for Friday. The health system will offer the Moderna shots for vaccination clinics at Passavant Hospital on Wednesday and Thursday.
Sangamon County has administered 2,729 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the last month, according to O’Neill. She said there have been no reports of the complications flagged by the CDC in those who’ve been vaccinated in the county. Govindaiah said the same of those Memorial has vaccinated.
The CDC encouraged anyone who develops severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the shot to contact a medical provider.
O’Neill said switching to the Pfizer vaccine for the mobile clinics could present some logistical challenges as it requires two doses.
“It'll slow it a little bit,” O’Neill said. “As long as people still have decided they'd like to be vaccinated, we want people to do that. We encourage them to. So it'll take a little bit longer, but we're fine with that.”
As of Tuesday, 60,691 Sangamon County residents have been fully vaccinated — around 30% of the population, according to IDPH.