COVID-19 Q&A: Johnson & Johnson vaccine and severe adverse effects

Q: Why are Idaho and the nation calling for a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

A: The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is recommending that Idaho vaccine providers not use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until more information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This recommendation was made after the department received information that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are reviewing data for six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot, combined with low platelet counts, in individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Vaccine safety is the nation’s and Idaho’s No. 1 priority. The CDC and FDA have recommended a pause in administering the vaccine until additional information is available for healthcare providers about evaluation and treatment of this rare adverse event among people who have been vaccinated. The Idaho Immunization Program has notified Idaho providers.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: We are focused on sharing accurate and timely information related to COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) spends time every day making sure we share accurate and timely information in various ways including: our weekly media briefings, our website, social media, and answering questions directly from members of the public and the media.

The reality is that telling the truth saves lives. When Idahoans have access to accurate information, they can make informed decisions about their own health and the health of their families and communities. We continue to remain dedicated to keeping the people of Idaho safe through accurate information.

I would encourage you to use trusted sources for information when sharing COVID-related information. You can find the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites, as well as on the department’s social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter:

Data Dashboards

The DHW data teams have worked diligently every day to make sure Idahoans have the data they need to make informed decisions during the past year. We have made some changes to how often the data on the dashboards will be updated to allow them to have weekends off. The new update schedule for the data dashboards is as follows:

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COVID-19 Q&A: Breakthrough cases and variants

Q: Are we seeing cases of disease among Idahoans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19? How many of those people have been hospitalized? Have there been any deaths?

A: We have seen some “breakthrough cases,” which is the term being used to refer to people who have been fully vaccinated, but who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Breakthrough cases are expected since no vaccine offers 100 percent protection against illness. COVID-19 vaccines are the best protection we have against serious illness and death, in addition to the recommended guidelines. And the data bears that out. The good news, so far, is that people who develop COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated have experienced mostly mild to moderate illness.

Of the 105 cases reported as of today, only three have had to be hospitalized, and there have been no deaths. The three who were hospitalized had medical conditions that increased their risk for serious illness.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System

Join us at 10 a.m. Wednesday on Facebook Live when DHW Deputy Director Lori Wolff will discuss Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System, and then will take questions from viewers. https://www.facebook.com/IdahoHealthandWelfare

Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System allows Idahoans, and those who work in Idaho, who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to save their names to a statewide list that is available to vaccine providers who have open appointments and COVID-19 vaccine. People can add their names at any time, whether they are currently eligible or not, and a provider will contact them when it’s their turn and there is an open appointment.

The statewide schedule for vaccines has been updated to our website and opens vaccine according to the following schedule:

  • March 15: Age 55-64 with at least one medical condition*
  • March 22: Age 55-64 general population
  • March 29: Age 45-54 with at least one medical condition*
  • April 5: Age 45-54 general population
  • April 12: 16 – 44 with at least one medical condition*
  • April 26: Age 16 – 44 general population

Medical conditions are defined as “are at increased risk” and “might be at increased risk” per the CDC. Visit the CDC to see a full list of conditions that qualify as a medical condition. In addition, disabilities are also included as a medical condition. 

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COVID-19 Q&A: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Idaho received 13,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine the week of March 1. We are not expecting additional shipments of the vaccine until late March, based on information from the manufacturer and the federal government. It was approved under Emergency Use Authorization on Feb. 27, 2021. On Feb. 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended use of the vaccine in people 18 years and older.

Adding Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine to our toolbox means more people can get vaccinated, which increases the overall population protected from severe disease, hospitalization, and even death.

Having different types of vaccines available for use, especially ones with different dosing recommendations and storage and handling requirements, can offer more options and flexibility for the public and vaccine providers.

Is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer and Moderna?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose recombinant (combined genetic material) vector (vehicle) vaccine. Recombinant vaccines use one virus to carry a small piece of genetic material from another virus to trigger an immune response in the body. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a modified adenovirus to carry the gene for the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) spike protein genetic material. The virus can enter cells but can’t replicate inside them or cause illness. The body’s immune system detects the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and generates antibodies. 

It does not require ultra-cold storage, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do. Storage and handling of this vaccine is similar to many other vaccines. It must be stored at refrigerated temperatures between 36°- 46°F (2°-8°C). It is easy to transport and store and allows for expanded availability in most community settings and mobile sites, as supply scales up.

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COVID-19: New services for Idahoans who want to quit tobacco

All Idahoans who want to quit tobacco products, including cigarettes, chew, and vapes, have access to free programs to help them on their quit journey. In addition to the current programs for adults, youth, pregnant women, and tribal members who have decided it’s time to quit, the Department of Health and Welfare and Project Filter are pleased to provide a free and enhanced tobacco cessation program for adults 18 and older who are living with conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and substance use disorders.

Communities are facing increased mental health challenges during the pandemic, including stress, depression, suicidal ideation, and higher substance use. Quitting tobacco improves mental health and can provide people with the tools to quit other substance addictions as well.

People who report mental health and substance use disorders also have higher rates of tobacco use and lower rates of quitting. In fact, more than one-third of all tobacco used in the United States is consumed by people who also have a behavioral health condition.

More than half of QuitLine callers report at least one condition and nearly 1 in 3 callers report multiple behavioral health conditions that impact their ability to quit tobacco. People with behavioral health conditions may want to quit, but they often need more intensive support to help with stress.

As part of the new program, participants receive:

  • Seven scheduled telephone coaching sessions over three months, focused on coping techniques to manage stress, and development of a personalized quit plan.
  • Specially trained tobacco treatment coaches who understand behavioral health conditions.
  • Nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) for 8 weeks with combinations of patch, gum, or lozenges.
  • A personalized welcome package including educational materials and the My Quit Journey© workbook.
  • A suite of eHealth services to supplement telephone coaching, including customized email and text messages, online chat, and interactive online resources.
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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine administered vs. distributed, new online resource, new vaccines, and getting vaccinated after COVID

Q: Where are the COVID-19 vaccine doses Idaho has received but not administered?

A: Vaccine doses are sent directly from the manufacturers to the providers, based on orders they receive from the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW). DHW places orders for the vaccine as soon as they are available based on discussions with the local public health districts. The local public health districts are in contact with vaccine providers in their counties. DHW is not storing any doses or holding any doses back.

If doses that have already been administered are not showing up in Idaho’s Immunization Reminder Information System (IRIS), it could be because there is a slight data lag (providers have 72 hours to submit data about administration of each dose), or because providers have not administered them yet. Staff are also troubleshooting some technical issues we have discovered with IRIS and other data vendors that have caused some data for doses administered to not show up in IRIS. We have hired additional staff to help find those corrupt files and fix them so they show up in IRIS.

Q: Where can I find information to schedule an appointment for get a vaccine?  

A: Idaho launched a new COVID-19 vaccination information web page on Friday to help Idahoans more easily find information on when and where to get vaccinated and what to expect when they get to their appointment. The new web page is https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/covid-19-vaccination. It’s also available by link at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

Local public health districts are responsible for implementing vaccination plans. Enrolled COVID-19 vaccine provider information is available on each public health district website, but the new state web page offers just one place where all Idahoans can find out when they are eligible to receive the vaccine and where to access enrolled COVID-19 vaccine provider organizations in their area.

The state web page also tells Idahoans which priority groups, by occupation and age, are next in line for the vaccine. It will be updated on a regular basis.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Scheduling an appointment for vaccine and what to expect

Q: How can I schedule an appointment to get a vaccine?

A: Idahoans who are prioritized for vaccine right now include healthcare workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, first responders (including law enforcement officers and dispatchers), pre-K–12th grade teachers and staff, childcare staff, correctional and detention facility staff, behavioral health workers, and clergy who enter healthcare facilities to provide religious support to patients.

You can see an estimated timeline at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

The local public health districts are managing vaccine administration at the local level, and at this point, vaccine administration has been scheduled and coordinated with the employers of those included in the current priority groups.

We expect to be able to start vaccinating those who are 65 and older starting Feb. 1. The local public health districts are establishing systems to help individuals identify vaccine clinics where they can schedule an appointment.

We have discussed in public how we have explored the functionality of a tool called PrepMod. However, we found it to be redundant with what is happening locally. So instead of this tool, we are enhancing our website to point to the local public health district websites and call centers where individuals can get find and schedule appointments for the vaccine clinics in their area. More to come on that soon. PrepMod remains an important scheduling and management tool for many vaccine providers across the state.

Contact your local public health district if you have questions, but please know that they may not have all the answers just yet. We’re working together to get you those answers as quickly as possible.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine supply, and how to volunteer

Q: Will Idaho receive fewer doses of vaccine now that we know the federal supply has all been distributed and there is no reserve supply?

A: No, Idaho will see a slight increase in vaccine doses starting this week.

After an announcement the week of Jan. 11 by Health and Human Services that it would release all the COVID-19 vaccine it had held in reserve in an effort to speed up the vaccination process, many states, including Idaho, believed more vaccine would be shipped to them than they previously anticipated.

The Department of Health and Welfare, along with other states, learned on Friday that we will not see a large increase in COVID-19 vaccine doses from the previously announced release of second doses. No second doses were held back by the federal government, as expected. However, we have been notified by the federal government that states including Idaho will see a 2-5 percent increase in the number of doses we will receive each week, which amounts to about 950 extra doses each week. At this time, we are anticipating receiving 20,950 doses each week for the foreseeable future.

Along with other states, we are requesting more accurate, timely, and forward-looking estimates of doses Idaho will receive from the federal government. We are committed to being transparent as we quickly work to support enrolled provider organizations as they vaccinate as many people as possible during this rapidly evolving situation.

Q: Will people who have received their first dose still be able to get the second?

A: We expect there will be enough vaccine for Idahoans who have received their first dose to get their second dose of the vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna have assured Health and Human Services (HHS) that manufacturing of the vaccine continues with no issues.

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COVID Q&A: Where to get a vaccine, new virus strain, and vaccine side effects

Q: How and where can I get vaccinated if I don’t have a primary care physician?

A: For people without a primary care physician, access to vaccines may be through places such as your employer, local public health agencies, federally qualified health centers, and pharmacies. As we move from vaccinating healthcare workers to offering vaccine to others, more and more healthcare providers will have vaccine. Currently over 200 healthcare providers have signed up to be able to provide COVID-19 vaccine.

Q: What do we know about the new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is it in Idaho?

A: We are aware that the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported in the U.S. Idaho Public Health officials and testing laboratories are watching for the variant virus, but we have not detected it yet. Nonetheless, we think it’s probably here, as it is in some nearby states.

The Idaho public health laboratory is participating in a national Strain Surveillance project and is routinely sending COVID positive samples to CDC for sequencing to monitor for new variants. In addition, our public health laboratory also has the capacity to perform gene sequencing of the virus and will be bringing on that capability as soon as possible this year, to provide additional monitoring for mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in Idaho.

At this point, our work to vaccinate healthcare workers and residents and staff in long-term care facilities continues. The expectation of experts is that based on the mutations, the currently available vaccines should still be very effective against this strain.

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