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Carroll health official concerned about how Johnson & Johnson ‘pause’ will affect COVID vaccine availability

With Maryland halting use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday noting concerns about blood clots, Carroll County’s top health official said he is more worried about the impact this will have on vaccine supply and public confidence than on any associated risk.

“The biggest concern in the short term is the overall impact on vaccine availability. Johnson & Johnson was in high use by the FEMA teams that were out there and a lot of the mass vaccination sites and in some of the hospitals,” Health Officer Ed Singer said. “It means having to spread out the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which will decrease the amount of vaccine everybody’s getting, whether it’s the private pharmacies, mass vaccinations sites or the local health departments. It’s going to make it harder to get a large majority of people vaccinated.”

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Ed Singer, Carroll County health officer
Ed Singer, Carroll County health officer (Amy Davis)

The Carroll County Health Department will pause the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until further federal guidance is issued, according to a statement released on its website. One clinic that had been scheduled at the Carroll County Detention Center will now use Moderna rather than Johnson & Johnson. Previously, the health department had held just one clinic using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, on March 5.

There have been no reports of the blood clot side effect in Carroll County, according to a CCHD spokesperson, and this side effect has not been seen with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

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Singer said he is concerned this situation could erode public confidence generally in COVID-19 vaccines, but he pointed out that there are big differences in how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work compared with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

More than 6.8 million people in the United States have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Federal regulators will review the six cases of blood clots and determine whether the vaccine is still safe to use, the two agencies said Tuesday in a joint news release.

“The important thing to look at is there are six cases of this happening out of well over 6 million doses. I’m concerned that we put a pause on and the perception is going to be that this is a bad vaccine,” Singer said. “There’s no such thing as a vaccine that has absolutely no risk. The risk is very, very low.

“With six cases … I don’t find that to be a high rate of concern, necessarily, with what this pandemic’s done to our country. Personally, if I were to have the choice, I’d still take the choice of being vaccinated [with Johnson & Johnson].”

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The health department website warns that anyone who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who develops severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of vaccination should contact their health care provider.

New cases

The Carroll County Health Department reported 27 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, all community cases. Carroll County has had 56 total new cases this week, down slightly from the 72 reported through the same period last week, when the county finished with 226 cases after 229 the previous week. Before that, the last time the county saw a weekly drop was the week of Feb. 21, the final of seven consecutive weeks of declining numbers following the post-holiday peak.

No COVID-19 deaths have been announced since Friday, when the seventh fatality in eight days was reported by the health department. Overall, 235 county residents have died of COVID-19 — 63 community members and 172 congregate living facility residents.

Carroll’s testing positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that returned positive results over the past seven days, dropped to 5.13%, a 1.44 percentage point drop in three days. It has been over 5% — the threshold the World Health Organization recommends jurisdictions stay below before lifting restrictions — since March 22 after dipping as low as 2.45% on March 4.

Carroll’s case rate per 100,000 people per day, reported as an average over the past seven days, remained essentially flat at 19.59. The rate had been as low as 7.46 in early March after peaking at 47.58 on Jan. 11.

Vaccine

Carroll, like the state of Maryland, is in Phase 3, which means everyone 16 and older is eligible to get the vaccine. However, Carroll is only able to vaccinate those 18 and older at this time. Only Pfizer is approved for people 16 and 17 and Carroll mostly gets the Moderna vaccine. According to the health department website, one to three first dose clinics are being scheduled each week, and those 65 and over will be prioritized.

For those who would like to preregister for vaccination through the Carroll County Health Department, complete the appropriate form online at cchd.maryland.gov/covid-19-interest-forms or call 410-876-4848. All Marylanders ages 16 and older can preregister for an appointment at a mass vaccination site by visiting covidvax.maryland.gov or calling 1-855-MD-GOVAX (1-855-634-6829). During preregistration, Marylanders can choose their top two preferred sites.

Around the state

Maryland health officials reported adding 1,084 coronavirus cases Tuesday, as well as 14 fatalities blamed on the virus. The state has recorded more than 1,000 cases six of the last seven days, health department data shows.

The state reported 55,544 vaccinations Tuesday, health department data shows. About 21,606 people received their first dose of the two-shot regimens made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, with 25,266 getting their second dose. Meanwhile, 8,672 of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccines made their way into arms in Maryland. That means more than 1.4 million have been fully vaccinated in the state, either from completing a two-dose regimen or getting the single-shot immunization.

Community cases

Carroll has reported 7,395 cases of community members who have tested positive — 3,788 women and 3,607 men. Age group data:

0-9: 303

10-19: 882

20-29: 1,302

30-39: 1,039

40-49: 988

50-59: 1,368

60-69: 896

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70-79: 427

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80-89: 165

90-99: 25

Total cases

Carroll has reported 8,622 total COVID-19 cases. ZIP code data (those with fewer than seven cases are not listed):

21784 (Eldersburg/Sykesville): 2,146

21157 (Westminster): 1,930

21158 (Westminster): 1,054

21771 (Mount Airy): 676

21074 (Hampstead): 621

21102 (Manchester): 538

21787 (Taneytown): 514

21048 (Finksburg): 449

21776 (New Windsor): 237

21797 (Woodbine): 152

21104 (Marriottsville): 126

21791 (Union Bridge): 103

21757 (Keymar): 65

Probable cases

In addition to the confirmed cases, Carroll also reported 16 new probable cases, making a total of 2,908 probables since the beginning of the pandemic. These are patients who test positive using a rapid antigen test, rather than a molecular test like those offered at state-run testing sites. The health department doesn’t consider these results to be confirmed cases.

Hospitalizations

The number of patients being treated for COVID-19 at Carroll Hospital dropped to 25 Monday from 33 last week. The metric had been down to three on March 9. Additionally, two patients were under investigation for COVID-19, 12 critical care unit beds were in use and the total patient census was 150 out of an approximate capacity of 170.

Baltimore Sun reporters Alex Mann, Christine Condon, Hallie Miller and Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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