J&J Vaccine Pause Puts Vermonters Without Housing In Limbo
Last week, the CDC and FDA called for a pause in the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,at least until this Friday. The news came after six people reported severe blood clots after receiving the vaccine. The pause has left many Vermonters in limbo — especially those who are experiencing homelessness and are relying on this particular vaccine for its accessibility.
On April 13, a 9 a.m. phone call from the Vermont Department of Health tossed all of Richard DeAngelis’ hard work out the door — at least temporarily. DeAngelis is the executive director of the Good Samaritan Haven in Barre, which provides shelter services for people experiencing homelessness in central Vermont.
Good Samaritan Haven serves about 350 people. Like many shelters across the state, they shifted how they serve unhoused Vermonters to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. As vaccines have become available, DeAngelis and his team have also helped set up clinics to provide the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Last week, Good Samaritan Haven had four clinics scheduled, and 200 doses ready to be given out. Then, DeAngelis got the call that all Johnson & Johnson shots had been paused.
“It was very, very disappointing,” DeAngelis said. “And I think it has an especially significant consequence for people who are experiencing homelessness; whether it's in a motel or shelter on the streets.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is much easier to manage than other COVID-19 vaccines, when it comes to transportation and storage. Unlike the other two FDA-approved vaccines, made by Pfizer and Moderna, Johnson & Johnson doesn't have to be kept in ultra-cold freezers. Because it only takes one-shot, Johnson & Johnson is ideal for vaccinating groups of people that are living in close quarters and who may not be able to come back three or four weeks later for a second jab.
Vermonters experiencing homelessness can sign up for a COVID-19 shot through the state website or pharmacies. But many shelters and community organizations have also stepped up and organized vaccine clinics, turning to the Johnson & Johnson shot to vaccinate the roughly 2,000 families experiencing homelessness in Vermont.
"I think it has an especially significant consequence for people who are experiencing homelessness; whether it's in a motel or shelter on the streets." - Richard DeAngelis, executive director of Good Samaritan Haven
Todd Godin is a resident at the Hilltop Inn in Berlin. He was looking forward to getting the Johnson & Johnson shot at one of the Good Samaritan Haven clinics last week.
“My wife is in a nursing home up the street and she did the one where you get a shot and wait two weeks,” Godin said. “I'd rather just get one shot and get it done. It was just disappointing that it was supposed to be, and now it’s not.”
Iris Peppin, another resident at the Hilltop Inn, was planning to get the Johnson & Johnson shot, too. She said having a vaccination clinic at the hotel would have made getting the shot that much easier.
“It would be hard to get there unless the buses are running, and I have no money for taxis,” Peppin said. “I can hitch a ride with somebody if they're going that certain day, but it's a lot easier with stuff that comes here to the hotel because it’s not only me who has problems with transportation.”
Peppin said she’s hesitant to get any vaccine after the Johnson & Johnson news. She’s waiting to see if her family has any adverse reactions before she considers getting a shot.
This vaccine hesitancy is a concern shared by public health officials across the state.
Josh Davis runs Groundworks Collaborative, a non-profit organization in Brattleboro doing similar work to Good Samaritan Haven. He said tensions have been high since the pause.
“There's quite a bit of anxiety that we’ve been sitting with,” Davis said. “A number of folks — many of whom have compromised immune systems — are living under one roof and with our staff that’s been there every day. Getting to the vaccine has been held up as a big victory.”
"There's quite a bit of anxiety that we've been sitting with. A number of folks, many of whom have compromised immune systems, are living under one roof and with our staff that's been there every day. Getting to the vaccine has been held up as a big victory." - Josh Davis, executive director of Groundworks Collaborative
Both Davis and DeAngelis said their clinics have been put on hold until the CDC and FDA can provide more guidance on Johnson & Johnson distribution. They hope the vaccine will be offered again so they can reschedule the clinics that were cancelled last week.
The Vermont Health Department said it’s currently working on rescheduling those who had Johnson & Johnson appointments for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, the agency said those who get them will have to travel to those new appointments.
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