J&J Vaccine Pause Hits Home In Franklin

Manu Kakar of the Somerset Pharmacy shows the extra doses of the J&J vaccine stored in his refrigerator, which was specially bought for the vaccine program.

The decision to pause the distribution of the so-called “Johnson & Johnson” coronavirus vaccine is being felt in Franklin Township.

A Somerset County run pop-up vaccination site in the township, which featured the J&J vaccine, lies dormant, and at least one small business is left with doses of the vaccine that expire in about a month.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration early on April 13 issued recommendations to temporarily suspend the administration of the J&J vaccines, “out of an abundance of caution,” after six people reported suffering rare blood clots about a week after receiving the one-shot dose.

One of the victims has died and another is in critical condition, according to published reports.

Following that recommendation, the state Department of Health followed suit, stopping the administration of the J&J vaccine at all sites in the state.

Some sites, such as the pop-up vaccination clinic in the Rutgers Plaza parking lot on Easton Avenue, were established to deliver the J&J vaccine. The news of the temporary stoppage leaves Somerset County officials wondering if they’ll get a replacement vaccine.

“We’re very interested in using that space, Somerset County spokesman Nathan Rudy said.

The site debuted on April 7, with about 400 doses of the vaccine being distributed on April 7 and 8, Rudy said.

The County has a two-month lease with the property owner, Rudy said, so the County is hoping to get an extra supply of the Moderna vaccine to distribute in Franklin.

“Right now, we’re expecting to continue to get the same level of Moderna vaccine that we’ve been getting,” meaning that there is only enough for the County’s established vaccine clinics, Rudy said.

“It comes down to getting enough doses of the vaccine to be able to open up multiple large clinics,” he said.

Additional vaccination dates at the Rutgers Plaza clinic have not been scheduled, Rudy said. That won’t happen until the County knows how much vaccine it is getting in any given week.

“We don’t know week to week what allocations we’re going to receive, It’s entirely possible that we would get an increased allocation of any of the vaccines that are available,” he said.

The only scheduled vaccinations that the J&J stoppage will affect are the homebound vaccinations, he said.

Somerset County will continue its effort to vaccinate residents on its waiting list by shifting Moderna allocations to senior and underserved “closed POD” clinics, according to a press release from the County Commissioners.

Somerset County will continue to add residents to its Homebound and Senior Citizen waiting lists in anticipation of future allocations, according to the release. To add someone to these lists call the County COVID Hotline at (908) 231-7155 or use the web form at http://www.co.somerset.nj.us/covidQs.

Rudy said 400 vaccinations were given at the Rutgers Plaza site in its debut, but that number could be increased,

“We were making sure the facility could handle the numbers we were doing at a lower level than full use,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that traffic patterns would still allow people to shop in stores there. It was incredibly successful. We know we could do significantly more than that the next time we have a clinic there.”

Less certain of his future in administering vaccines is the Township Pharmacy’s Manu Kakar. That’s because Kakar’s independent pharmacy was part of a CDC-run program to deliver the J&J vaccine to small shops like his.

Kakar had been waiting since the J&J vaccine was approved in February to get some of the newest vaccine, which he did on April 10.

Kakar said he received 100 doses of the vaccine, and immediately began spreading the word of its availability to his customers.

He said his pharmacy administered about 20 vaccines on April 10, and another 15 on April 11. He was set to continue the program – his schedule was fully booked – when the pause order came down.

Unlike other, larger, sites that will get replacement vaccines through the state, Kakar said he has not heard anything from CDC.

Kakar said Gov. Phil Murphy should be doing more to get the vaccine to independent pharmacies like his.

“It’s not the state that’s sending the vaccine, it’s the CDC that’s sending the vaccine,” he said. “So what’s the state doing?”

“Murphy’s out there, saying everybody should get a vaccine, but what is he doing to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?” he asked.

Kakar said he brought in a part-time pharmacist for the week to help him administer the doses.

“Now I can’t tell him not to come,”Kakar said.

Kakar said his shop is getting many phone calls from customers who had signed up for the vaccinations, and his employees have to call the others to tell them to not come in.

“Everything’s on hold,” he said. “My customers are left hanging.”

Somerset County’s Rudy said that people who want the vaccines shouldn’t limit themselves to one source.

“We encourage everyone to go to one of the pharmacy partners, one of the medical partners,” he said. “No matter where you get the vaccine, you’re getting the vaccine and that’s what’s important.”

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