JONESBORO — When the Centers for Disease Control halted administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, it caused many people to be hesitant to take the shot when it was re-established, according to Hilary Wells, a pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe.
“It was in demand in a different way,” Wells said when the vaccine first came out. “A lot of people who didn’t want to come back for a second dose and, we like one and done, opted to take it. Now people are exercising caution and are opting for the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine.”
Wells said the majority of people are opting for Pfizer because it is more established.
There are 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Northeast Arkansas set to expire in two weeks.
Wells said no decisions have been made as to what will happen to those doses.
“We will address that when it gets here,” she said. “We have two more weeks to administer those.”
Col. Rob Atar, program manager for deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine with the Arkansas Department of Health, said if those vaccine doses are not administered, they will simply have to be thrown away.
“The biggest problem with the Johnson vaccine is the fact those were shipped in from the Netherlands and then sat in a warehouse waiting for FDA approval,” he said. “If those expire, they have no preservatives, and they will go to waste.”
Atar said while he has been trying to find places for those to be administered, his hands are tied due to regulations enacted by both the FDA and the CDC.
“The CDC has rules that we can’t move them outside the state of Arkansas, and (those doses) can’t leave the country because of FDA rules,” he said.
Atar said there are four teams of Arkansas National Guard soldiers moving 24,000 doses across the state to various locations so they don’t go to waste.
Ty Jones, director of marketing at NEA Baptist Memorial, said while NEA Baptist has not been administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it has had some vaccinations that were set to expire.
“We have had some of that play a role,” Jones said. “We have been able to get those vaccines sent to other hospitals; other health systems have reached out to us and have asked so we were able to get those sent to facilities that could distribute them quickly.”
Jones said even though there has been a new demographic of 12 to 17-year-olds approved for the Pfizer vaccination, there has not been a great influx of appointments.
“At this time, the supply and demand closely resemble each other,” he said.
St. Bernards Media Relations Manager Mitchell Nail said St. Bernards has not had any issues with looming expiration dates.
“We are, like other places, where the demand for the vaccine has gone down,” he said, noting the health care system has mostly administered the Pfizer vaccine. “At the same time, we have been prudent with our doses.”
Nail said the health care system does have Pfizer vaccines set to expire in July. “ … So we sent a request to the Arkansas Department of Health not to send anymore.”
Nail said he estimates St. Bernards has vaccinated more than 30,000 people in the area.
“That is the number for the people who have been fully vaccinated,” he said. “If you look at the number of doses given, it is double that.”
Arkansas is ranked 44th among states that have administered the most vaccines. The state has given 2,011,360 doses of the 2,651,460 vaccines allocated to it, according to the Arkansas Department of Health website. The site also depicts that there are 921,245 Arkansans vaccinated, and 237,406 partially vaccinated.
Wisconsin ranks first in the nation, according to information at beckershospitalreview.com, having administered 5,563,857 vaccinations of the 5,984,375 allocated to the state. Alabama ranks last; having administered 3,035,058 of the 4,637,330 vaccines allocated.
Atar said the main issue is getting doses in the arms of Arkansas residents.
“One of the things we are hoping for is with the approval of Pfizer to vaccinate 12- to 17-year-olds the Pfizer vaccine will find a few more homes in arms,” he said.
In addition the estimated 2,800 Johnson vaccines set to expire at the end of June, Atar said there are another 30,000 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines set to expire in the state in late July and early August.
“Moderna has also petitioned to approve the 12- to 17-year-old demographic,” he said.
“Whatever we can do to encourage fellow citizens to get vaccinated, we need to do so we don’t get a resurgence,” he said, noting there are five variants of the parent virus circulating within the state.
“Those who have been vaccinated will be fine,” he said. “This is the golden moment and a chance for us to get ahead of the curve so we are protected going into the fall.”