Pending final federal approval, Los Angeles County is prepared to quickly resume administration of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, with required warning materials about rare instances of blood clots, the county's chief science officer said Friday.
Dr. Paul Simon told reporters in an online briefing that the county has about 13,000 doses of the J&J vaccine on hand, while another 25,000 doses may be in the possession of other providers such as pharmacies and health centers that receive allocations of vaccine directly from the state or federal governments.
An advisory committee for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Friday that the J&J vaccine re-enter circulation, with a warning about potentially dangerous blood-clotting that occurred in 15 people - out of about 7 million doses administered nationwide.
The committee's recommendation must get final approval from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration before the vaccine can be used again.
"If they, as we expect, do approve moving forward, we are prepared to resume very quickly," Simon said. "We're in the process of developing, or at least finalizing now, the educational materials that will be used for clients and also for providers so that we can move forward."
Simon said once the CDC and FDA give the final go-ahead, the county could resume offering the shots within one or two days. He continued to promote the safety of the vaccines, noting the low rate of the blood-clotting cases. He called it an "excellent vaccine."
"This side effect appears to be very, very rare, and we feel that there shouldn't be any reluctance on the part of people to be vaccinated with the J&J vaccine," he said.
There have been fears that news of the blood clots that forced a halt to the vaccine's use would contribute to public hesitancy in general about getting vaccinated. While it is difficult to measure that impact, Los Angeles County has seen a drop-off in people making appointments at some of its vaccination sites.
The county announced Thursday that it will administer shots on a walk in basis, without appointments, at all of its large-scale vaccination sites through the weekend. That's a stark change from the early days of the vaccination effort, when appointments were in short supply.
"Since the vaccine entered L.A. County, we had experienced a shortage of supply that made it impossible to vaccinate our residents at the pace we were prepared to do," Simon said Friday. "That is no longer the case."
He noted that some county sites are still seeing their appointments fill quickly, but others are not, particularly in the Antelope Valley.
"We're watching this very closely," Simon said. "As we increase vaccination rates across the county population, we're increasingly going to have a reservoir of unvaccinated people who increasingly will be less interested in being vaccinated. And I think that group includes a broad spectrum of people -- some who may be hard no's. … We don't think that's a large percentage, but there are those out there in that camp. And then there are others I would regard as softer no's, that are no's right now but they may be persuaded otherwise."
He said the slow-down in the pace of people making appointments is likely due to a variety of factors, including recent downward trends in COVID case numbers that may lead people to believe the shots aren't necessary, and potentially more people getting shots from other non-county sources, such as pharmacies.
"We've already vaccinated that portion of our population that desperately wanted to be vaccinated," he said. "Early on there was a rush.
While others have been willing to wait a little bit but nonetheless felt vaccinations were really important, and so were willing to work hard to get appointments early on. And now we're sort of sliding into that remaining group of people that have some level maybe of either hesitation or reluctance or aren't so sure and want some more information."
Through Monday, walk-up vaccinations will be available at:
- Palmdale Oasis Recreation Center, 3850 E. Avenue S;
- The Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood;
- Balboa Sports Complex, 17015 Burbank Blvd., Encino;
- College of the Canyons, 25000 Valencia Blvd., Santa Clarita;
- Cal State Northridge, 18343 Plummer St.;
- Eugene Obregon Park, 4021 E. First St., Los Angeles;
- Pomona Fairplex, 2370 E. Arrow Highway, gate 15; and
- L.A. County Office of Education, 12830 Columbia Way, Downey.
As of mid-afternoon Friday, the county had not yet released its daily COVID statistics.
On Thursday, the county reported another 38 COVID-19 deaths, raising the overall death toll to 23,736.
Another 439 cases of COVID were reported by the county, while Long Beach health officials announced 35 cases and Pasadena added one, lifting the cumulative number from throughout the pandemic to 1,230,398.
According to state figures, there were 453 people hospitalized in Los Angeles County due to COVID, up from 451 on Thursday. The number of people in intensive care was 106, down from 109 on Thursday.
Simon said the county expects to receive an allotment of 296,990 vaccine doses next week, an 18% drop from this week. With direct allocations to pharmacies and health centers from the federal and state governments, there are expected to be more than 500,000 doses available across the county.