TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — There's now a bump in the road when it comes to getting millions vaccinated. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control has paused the use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
The FDA's recommendation to stop using the vaccine follows six cases of what are being called rare blood clots connected to what Johnson and Johnson says is a rare disorder. All cases included women between ages 18 and 48, with the issue starting six to 13 days after vaccination. At this time both Florida and Georgia are also pausing use statewide.
Still, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging people to keep moving forward with appointments for Moderna and Pfizer.
This comes as groups struggle to get people in minority communities, specifically African-Americans, vaccinated. In the Florida Department of Health's latest vaccine update, more than 4.5 million people are fully vaccinated. Yet only about 300,000 of those are African Americans.
Health and community leaders here in Tallahassee say this pause means they will need to work even harder to convince people in those communities that are at the greatest threat of getting COVID-19 to get vaccinated.
Reverend R.B. Holmes leads the Coronavirus Vaccine Task Force. Its goal is to encourage African-Americans who are skeptical about the vaccine to get the shot.
"We have a very robust grassroots campaign where we're knocking on doors, encouraging people to talk to their neighbors. We know there's hesitation but we know overwhelmingly that these shots save lives," said Reverend Holmes.
He says now that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on pause, it makes their job tougher, but not impossible.
"The numbers are not where they need to be yet. We're committed to bringing together more trusted voices. People will say, 'I trust them' and trusted venues will bring more people out," he said.
Members of the task force, like Talethia Edwards, say the Johnson & Johnson shot initially helped with hesitancy in the community, where access is not as easy to come by.
"Johnson and Johnson lowered people's inhibitions a lot because it is a one and done. You don't have to go back, you get one shot, you deal with the symptoms, you're done," said Edwards.
As the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration look into the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Bond Community Healthy CEO Dr. Temple Robinson says you should feel encouraged by the investigation.
"I feel good that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will not be released again fully to be used until we've drilled down on what the cause is, is there a cause, is there a link," said Dr. Robinson.
Until then Reverend Holmes says he'll continue to preach the benefits for all, especially African-Americans, to be vaccinated.
"I believe in these vaccines. I know hundreds of people who have taken Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna. They're all doing well. But nothing is perfect. There will be side effects," said Reverend Holmes.
Both Bond Community Health and the Florida A & M vaccine site report there are enough Moderna shots to handle the daily flow until more guidance comes down from the CDC and FDA.
Following those guidelines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is now being pulled from Tallahassee vaccination sites like Bond Community Health. Dr. Temple Robinson oversees vaccinations at Bond.
"It's just a matter of pulling the Moderna to the front of the line, making sure we have all the paperwork and consent forms in line with the large numbers that we have of the Moderna," said Dr. Robinson.
At the Al Lawson Center, getting the Johnson and Johnson doses has brought even more people to the site. Site director Tanya Tatum says they gave out nearly 250 doses in the three days the Johnson and Johnson shot was available.
"There were a number of people that wanted one shot. That was definitely one thing that attracted people to that type of vaccine," said Tatum.
Now the site is back to Moderna only and still seeing a steady amount of people wanting to get vaccinated.
"We've had quite a few come in today so I don't think it's had a huge impact," said Tatum.
Dr. Robinson says there is no reason to be worried about the vaccine.
"Sometimes it takes six or seven million people to get a medicine before you can uncover some of these types of problems, on the other hand, of course, I'm very concerned, now that people are going to pull back from being vaccinated and we really don't want that," said Dr. Robinson.