North Dakota announced Monday it is lifting its pause on Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot COVID-19 vaccine, while the Centers for Disease Control meanwhile said those who are fully vaccinated generally no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, unless they are in a crowd.
The new guidance is the latest in a series easing mask restrictions on those who are fully vaccinated, following mounting scientific evidence that the risks of infection are low for the fully vaccinated, particularly outside. Easing the restrictions is also seen broadly as a way to overcome vaccine reluctance.
North Dakota is among the highest in the nation when it comes to that, with 48 percent saying they are hesitant to very hesitant to take any COVID-19 vaccine. The figures were collected through surveys by the Census Bureau and compiled by the Centers for Disease Control.
Wyoming is tied with North Dakota for highest vaccine reluctance, with 48 percent in all saying they were hesitant to very hesitant to take the shot.
North Dakota officials have said previously they want to vaccinate 70 percent of their residents, and have so far given close to half the population a shot. The state has just started a $1 million education campaign to encourage people to “get vac” together.
Recent complications with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, however, have presented a stumbling block, even though that vaccine has only been a small part of the state’s vaccination efforts so far — just 5 percent of the total doses administered.
The 11-day review of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, popular because it is one-shot, was touched off by federal safety monitoring of the vaccine while it remains under an emergency use authorization.
That monitoring has caught 17 out of 7.98 million cases in which people developed a rare blood clot condition called thrombocytopenia syndrome after receiving J & J’s vaccine. Most of these cases were women under the age of 50. Three died, and seven were hospitalized.
In its risk-benefit analysis, CDC and FDA said fewer people will die if use of the vaccine resumes. Administering 9.8 million doses of the vaccine will prevent 1,434 deaths from COVID-19 and prevent 2,236 admissions to hospital intensive care units, while causing only 26 cases of TTS, according to the analysis.
The risks of thrombocytopenia syndrome, meanwhile, can be managed by ensuring vaccine recipients and providers are aware of the symptoms, as well as proper treatment. The symptoms include a severe headache, or leg or abdominal pain six to 14 days after vaccination with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
Heparin should not be given in these cases, since it may worsen the condition.
The symptoms of TTS are not being seen with the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, and are different from the short-lived, flu-shot like symptoms that may start a day or two after J & J’s one-shot vaccine is administered.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky and Dr. Janet Woodcock both said their agencies will continue to monitor real-time safety data for all COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Above all else, health and safety are at the forefront of our decisions,” Walensky said. “Our vaccine safety systems are working. We identified exceptionally rare events – out of millions of doses of the Janssen COVID-19 administered – and we paused to examine them more carefully. As we always do, we will continue to watch all signals closely as more Americans are vaccinated. I continue to be encouraged by the growing body of real-world evidence that the authorized COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and they protect people from disease, hospitalization, and death. I urge anyone with questions about the COVID-19 vaccines to speak with their healthcare provider or local public health department.”
The United States and other countries are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but cases have been dropping in North Dakota. Tuesday, the state listed 33 hospitalizations, down 12 from Monday, and no new deaths since April 23. Williams County, meanwhile, listed 12 new cases of COVID-19 infections. Only four other counties had higher amounts, Cass, Burleigh and Ward counties.
“COVID-19 vaccine supply is adequate in North Dakota and those choosing to be vaccinated may be able to choose which brand of vaccine they receive,” said Molly Howell, MPH, NDDoH immunization program director. “Vaccination against COVID-19 disease continues to be safer than COVID-19 illness.”
Daphne Clark, with Upper Missouri Health District, said they do have Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and have clinics scheduled in Williston and Watford City next week.