Virginia will be receiving only about one-tenth of the number of doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine next week than it received this week due to the manufacturer's quality-control issues.
The shortages will not affect the state's ability to open up vaccination eligibility to all adults age 16 and older starting April 18, but does mean that those people may have to wait longer for a vaccination appointment, said Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia's vaccination coordinator.
In addition, the shortages may hamper efforts to vaccinate Virginia college students before they return home for the summer or attend large graduation ceremonies, Avula said during a news briefing Friday afternoon.
Virginia received about 274,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week -- 124,000 for distribution by the health department and another 150,000 through the federal government's pharmacy partnership. However, that number next week will only be about 28,000, Avula said.
The shortages, which are occurring nationwide, are due to manufacturing issues with the vaccine at a plant in Baltimore that resulted in 15 million doses being destroyed. Johnson & Johnson has said it expects production to be back to normal levels by the end of April, but Avula noted that is still uncertain.
"We’re all in the dark a bit here," he said. "We’re just hopeful that by the end of April it’ll pick back up to what we expected.”
Through Friday, nearly 3 million Virginians -- or about 35% of the state's population -- have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and about 1.7 million, or close to 20%, are fully vaccinated. The state is currently averaging administering about 77,000 doses a day.
Avula said that when eligibility opens up on April 18, Virginians will not have to pre-register for the vaccine but will simply go to vaccinate.virginia.gov or use vaccinefinder.org to find an appointment. He warned, however, that patience will be required.
"That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to get vaccinated within 24 hours or doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to make an appointment necessarily within 24 hours," he added. He said that residents may need to check the site again three or four days later as more appointments become available and that appointments may be three to four weeks in the future, depending on vaccine availability.
Avula did say that despite the shortages state officials fully believe all Virginians who want to be vaccinated will receive their first dose by May 31. “We still feel really confident about that timeline.”
The story is slightly different on college campuses, however. State officials had hoped to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- which requires only one dose -- to vaccinate many students before the spring semester ends. Avula said the state is now working with colleges to explore other alternatives, which could include using one of the two-dose vaccines or -- for smaller colleges -- establishing partnerships with local pharmacies.
Avula said the state is continuing to receive its regular shipment of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two doses, spaced three or four weeks apart. This week, the state received about 200,000 first doses of the two vaccines and about 220,000 second doses.
Avula also announced that the state's vaccine allocation will be distributed differently starting April 18 and that vaccine doses will be distributed proportionately to the number of residents aged 18 to 64 who have not been vaccinated. He noted, however, that if demand wanes in certain localities, those vaccines may be reallocated to localities with more demand.
Demand for the vaccines generally has been lower in rural areas of the state than in more populous areas, such as Northern Virginia, and Avula said the state's strategy will shift to doing more outreach and addressing underlying skepticism about the vaccines.
“We will get to a point -– sooner rather than later in some districts -– where the approach to vaccinations changes,” he added. “We're really going to have to work harder to get that remaining 10 [percent], 15 [percent], and in some communities it’s going to be a higher percentage of people who don’t want it.”
Avula was asked about incidents this week in North Carolina and Colorado in which clinics that were administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were temporarily suspended after an unusual number of recipients had bad side effects.
“When things like that happen it usually raises concerns," he said but noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention didn't find any reasons to stop using the batches. “We will certainly continue to listen for any new developments.”
In Northern Virginia, Inova Health System announced Friday it has administered more than 300,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 25% of all shots in Northern Virginia.
In partnership with Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria, the health-care system recently opened its Stonebridge Vaccination Center in Alexandria. The center is currently vaccinating 4,500 people a day and has the ability to administer over 6,000 doses a day as supplies and eligibility expand.
With the recent news that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is proving 100% effective in children ages 12-15, Inova said that as soon as the FDA authorizes the vaccine for this group and the state declares them eligible it is prepared to work with local school districts to vaccinate students.