OXFORD, Maine — Just one day after the state’s new mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit launched in Oxford, appointments were canceled due to a nationwide “pause” on administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said they were investigating clots in six women that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. The clots were observed in the sinuses of the brain along with reduced platelet counts — making the usual treatment for blood clots, the blood thinner heparin, potentially “dangerous.”
Gov. Janet Mills, Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, and Shah said in a joint statement Tuesday, "Maine CDC is not aware of any reports of these cases in Maine residents," but is pausing administering the J&J vaccine "out of an abundance of caution."
The state's new mobile vaccination unit (MVU), which came together under a partnership between the state and FEMA, was slated to provide the J&J vaccine to as many as 250 people a day.
But in response to the state and nationwide pause, the Maine CDC said all vaccine appointments for the mobile unit scheduled Tuesday between 8:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. have been canceled and will be rescheduled.
The Maine CDC continued to say, however, that the Maine CDC has secured doses of the Moderna vaccine from another vaccine location and redirected them to the mobile unit "so that all appointments scheduled at the MVU from 1 p.m. today through Friday, April 16 will be offered unchanged."
Those with appointments at the mobile unit that were canceled are urged to call 1-888-445-4111 to reschedule.
During the coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, Shah said the Moderna doses that are being redirected to the MVU were second doses that could be reallocated as first doses, and later replenished to vaccination sites.
He said some concerns include scheduling the second doses and storage. One benefit of the J&J vaccine compared to Moderna and Pfizer, is the less restrictive storage requirements.
The second dose of Moderna is required about four weeks after the first dose. Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in the briefing Tuesday they are just a few hours into the news but are committed to figuring out the scheduling logistics.
In the briefing, Gov. Janet Mills said the state is working in partnership with FEMA to make sure the mobile unit can and will continue its planned route to 10 other towns across Maine.
"We're as determined as ever to get shots into the arms of Maine people in the rural and underserved areas of Maine, in particular," Mills said.
The mobile unit's next stop will be Windham, starting on Sunday. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 1-888-445-4111. You do not have to be a resident of Windham to get an appointment at the mobile unit.
If you already have an appointment with the mobile site, keep it, Mills said. You will get your vaccine.
"Stick with us. Logistical challenges–like this–are to be expected," Mills said.
The Maine CDC said individuals with appointments to receive the J&J vaccine at other clinics will hear from those clinics about rescheduling their appointments.
Clinics that received J&J vaccine are advised to store it until further information from the U.S. FDA and the U.S. CDC becomes available.
In Maine, 5.65 percent of doses administered are J&J, or 51,194 out of 906,713 total doses. Maine received a lower allotment of J&J for the week of April 12 of 2,500 doses, compared to 20,600 for the week of April 5. The Maine CDC expects the state will receive a similarly low amount of J&J for the week of April 19.
Retail pharmacies in Maine have 2,600 doses of J&J vaccine to administer this week. Hospitals, clinics, and other locations have 2,500, although a majority of those are with the FEMA mobile vaccination unit.