Nebraska health officials announced Monday that local health departments, pharmacies and others administering COVID-19 vaccines in the state should resume injections of the Johnson & Johnson shot.
The state, health officials said, is following the recommendations of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, which on Friday lifted an 11-day pause on the use of the single-dose vaccine.
The agencies called for the pause based on six reported cases in the U.S. of a rare and severe condition that combined blood clots and low platelet levels. One of those cases involved a Nebraska woman in her late 40s who was hospitalized at the Nebraska Medical Center. She also suffered a stroke, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
After a review of those cases and others by a federal advisory panel, federal health officials concluded that the vaccine’s benefits in fighting the ongoing pandemic outweighed the potential risks of the rare condition.
In all, the federal government uncovered 15 vaccine recipients who had developed the rare condition out of almost 8 million people who have received the J&J shot. The CDC said all were women between the ages of 18 and 59 who began experiencing symptoms within six to 15 days after vaccination.
But the CDC and FDA note that women under 50 should be aware of the rare but increased risk of the condition and that there are other vaccine options available. Neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccines have been linked to the condition after more than 210 million doses have been injected.
Several states, including Iowa, lifted pauses in their states Friday, advising that administration of the vaccine could resume immediately. Health officials in some states began administering the shot Saturday.
Locally, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be available Friday at a drive-thru clinic at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus, said Phil Rooney, a spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department. Some retail pharmacies participating in a federal program also have the vaccine.
This week, the Health Department will be focusing on vaccination clinics for residents 16 and older at high schools in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, Rooney said. The only vaccine currently available for teens as young as 16 is the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 and older.
The first clinics are set for 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Millard North and Omaha South High Schools. A second day of clinics is scheduled for the same hours Wednesday at Millard North.
Holding clinics for older high school students and their families is one of the strategies county health officials listed last week as part of their efforts to extend shots beyond those eager to be vaccinated to those who may be harder to reach.
Vaccinators across the country continued to put shots in arms last week, although a World-Herald analysis of CDC data suggests that the pace at which they are being administered may have slowed somewhat.
CNN also reported that the average pace of new doses being administered dipped slightly from earlier this month.
On Saturday, the network reported, the CDC’s Dr. Amanda Cohn said the recent pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had contributed to the decline.
As of Monday, Nebraska had delivered almost 1.37 million total vaccinations, according to the state’s data dashboard. That was up more than 93,000 doses from the previous Sunday’s tally of almost 1.28 million doses. By comparison, state health officials reported that more than 211,000 doses were injected the week ending April 18.
According to CDC data, 804,000 Nebraskans age 18 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Sunday. That was 55% of that population, which ranked Nebraska 23rd among the states. CDC data also indicate that 578,000 Nebraskans, or almost 40% of its 18-and-older population, were fully vaccinated by Sunday. That ranked the state No. 17.
The state’s best rank comes in the proportion of residents 65 and older who are fully vaccinated. With almost 75% coverage among that group, the state sits at No. 11.
New cases of COVID-19 continued to hold relatively steady last week. According to CDC data, the state added 2,435 new cases in the week ending Saturday. That was up from 2,090 cases the previous week, but similar to the 2,395 the week before that.
But only 13 states had week-over-week increases in cases last week. The state’s new per capita case rate was also slightly above the U.S. average. Health officials are urging Nebraskans to continue to mask and keep their distance from others when in public.
But the number of Nebraskans hospitalized with COVID-19 had dipped to 124 by Sunday. That figure was down from a recent peak of 173 on April 9.
World-Herald Staff Writer Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.