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Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine returns next week and more Maryland doctors will offer vaccines

Maryland vaccination sites will again offer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after a pause so experts could reaffirm that it is safe to use, and the state will also make vaccines more generally available in doctors’ offices.

The Maryland Department of Health said Friday that it will resume allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to various sites next week, the first week since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determined that a blood-clotting condition was extremely rare in women.

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“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one of our most important tools in the ongoing fight to prevent hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19,” Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state deputy secretary for public health services, said in a statement. “By resuming allocations of this safe and effective vaccine in Maryland, we continue to bolster our ability to stay ahead of new cases and emerging variants.”

The vaccine has been less widely used than others but is considered crucial to local and national vaccination efforts because it requires only one dose and doesn’t need to be stored in deep freezers. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses and must be kept ultra cold until used.

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The FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement April 23 that the benefits of the J&J vaccine far outweigh its risks.

When its use was paused, more than 6.8 million doses had been administered nationwide and there were only six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Those cases were recorded in combination with low levels of blood platelets. Subsequently, nine more cases were seen in women ages 18-59.

The pause allowed officials to make sure the conditions were not more widespread and guidance could be provided to doctors on spotting and treating cases.

Maryland plans to allocate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine based on provider requests. Half the 13,600 doses in the first week will go to hospitals. The remainder will go to pharmacies, correctional facilities, local health departments and doctors’ offices.

The state is also expanding the number of doctors’ offices participating in its Primary Care COVID-19 Vaccination Program to 221, up from 70 practices.

State health officials say adding more offices will make it more convenient and accessible for Marylanders not yet vaccinated. Everyone 16 and older is now eligible for a COVID vaccine in the state, though only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for those ages 16 and 17. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for those 18 and older.

Studies are underway in younger children, and some older kids are expected to be eligible this summer for a shot, while younger ones will likely be vaccinated in the fall or winter or early next year.

With more doses available in the United States and more people vaccinated, the intense demand has eased, and the state has made shots available at its mass vaccination sites without appointments. There is also a push to vaccinate pockets of people with less access or more concerns through smaller and mobile clinics.

State officials say doctors have long-standing relationships with patients, who may prefer a vaccination in the office. The doctors can access a state electronic medical record sharing system to assess who is most vulnerable to severe disease and has not not been vaccinated.

“Our Primary Care COVID-19 Vaccination Program is critical to ensuring that no Marylander is left behind when it comes to vaccinations,” Dennis R. Schrader, state health secretary, said in a statement. “Expanding it will enable us to provide more vaccines to family practices throughout the state and directly reach people who we know haven’t been vaccinated yet.”

Maryland has administered 4.6 million doses of the vaccine, with close to 2 million people fully vaccinated.

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