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Doctors: Pulling Johnson and Johnson vaccine could impact Florida's herd immunity goal

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Posted at 4:56 PM, Apr 13, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — Vaccination sites in Tampa Bay and across the country are turning away people hoping to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Federal leaders are recommending a pause in the vaccine out of an “abundance of caution” after six people developed blood clots after receiving the one-dose shot. That’s out of 6.8 million people who have received the vaccine.

At the Tampa Greyhound Track, vaccination leaders had 3,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that they planned to give out Tuesday. Instead, they hauled all those doses back to the health department to be refrigerated until they get further guidance.

They received the call at 7:30 a.m., a half-hour after opening the site on Tuesday, and promptly stopped any future Johnson and Johnson vaccinations. The site stayed open the rest of the day, only administering second dose Pfizer vaccines.

Signs outside of the vaccination site now flash this message:

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Arla Spillman was one of many who was hoping to get the one dose shot, but instead, she was turned away.

“I’m just disappointed there’s no shot at all. It was a bummer,” she said.

Spillman has Crohn’s Disease, which puts her at higher risk for COVID-19. She’s anxious to get vaccinated, despite any possible side effects.

“It’s so rare the side effects that I really wasn’t worried about it,” she added.

Dr. Thomas Unnasch at USF’s College of Public Health agrees, stressing that this shouldn’t be a factor that determines if you get vaccinated.

“The take-home message folks is that you’re a whole lot better getting this vaccine than you are not getting this vaccine,” he elaborated. “Everything that we do has a little bit of a risk with it, and you have to balance that out. In this case, getting the vaccine is much much much less risky than just taking your chances.”

Unnasch worries it could, however, have an impact on herd immunity. Florida needs between 70-85% of people to get the shot to reach that level. Unnasch says without the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, it could push that goal back three weeks or more to the end of July or later as sites have one less option to offer.

Carole Covey, the incident commander at the Florida Department of Emergency Management, says it was important to follow federal guidelines to ensure everyone is safe.

“I think it’s...I’ll use the phrase bittersweet because we are obviously very excited to have the vaccine and to be able to vaccinate the community and reach herd immunity, but there’s also a safety side that we want to protect the community in the most appropriate way.”

Our local vaccination sites plan to continue with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines until they get more guidance about what to do with the Johnson and Johnson doses. The doses will be stored at an appropriate temperature at safe locations until then.