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Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause holds up some local shots 

On Friday, April 9, a "pop-up" vaccine clinic in Atascadero helped inoculate a few dozen unhoused North County community members for COVID-19.

Hosted by the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO), with assistance from the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHC), the clinic used the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on ECHO dinner and shower program participants.

"We determined with Public Health that Johnson & Johnson would be best for that population, because it's a one-time only," ECHO CEO Wendy Lewis told New Times. "We've been working super closely with Public Health and CHC to try to figure out the best way to take vaccines to the population we serve."

ECHO had plans to host a second pop-up vaccine clinic in Paso Robles on April 16. But after federal health officials put a nationwide pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 12 due to extremely rare instances of blood clots, those local shots—and others throughout the county—are now on hold.

click to enlarge ON PAUSE SLO County stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 12. It constitutes 9 percent of its total vaccine supply. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • ON PAUSE SLO County stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on April 12. It constitutes 9 percent of its total vaccine supply.

The SLO County Public Health Department and major pharmacies like CVS and Rite Aid have suspended their use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until federal guidance greenlights it again. U.S. agencies are investigating whether six cases of blood clots among millions of recipients are tied to their immune response to the vaccine.

According to Michelle Shoresman, a public information officer for SLO County Public Health, there have been no known instances of locals having these adverse reactions.

Shoresman said the pause won't slow down the county's vaccination campaign too much. Only 9 percent of SLO County's current vaccine supply are Johnson & Johnson doses. About 2,200 of the brand's shots have been administered at its three clinics to date.

SLO County has used the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to inoculate farmworkers and hospitality workers, who officials say can be challenging to schedule a second shot for.

CHC has worked with homeless services providers throughout the county, like ECHO, to help vaccinate unhoused residents using Johnson & Johnson. Without that option, it makes reaching that population even more difficult.

"In general, it's a pretty complex thing to find people within the [two-shot] window," said Janna Nichols, executive director of the Five Cities Homeless Coalition in South County. "We've been trying to figure out how best to address this. With the J&J vaccine on pause, that makes it even more problematic. We have to think about a two-shot option." Δ

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