by CHRIS ROGERS
Local COVID vaccination efforts are still making progress, but they suffered some setbacks this week. Federal allocations to Minnesota are still below the level state leaders said would soon be coming, and health officials paused administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while regulators investigate the six incidents of vaccine recipients developing rare blood clots — out of 6.8 million doses administered nationwide.
As part of their ongoing effort to carefully monitor the safety of COVID vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spotted six cases of a rare blood clot in the brain among women ages 18-48 occurring 6-13 days after vaccination. Experts for both agencies will investigate, and officials wrote, “Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution.”
The Buffalo County Health Department had to cancel some appointments this week for vaccinations planning to use the Johnson & Johnson product. Winona County Public Health administered 150 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine earlier this spring, though it does not have any this week, Winona County Emergency Management Director Ben Klinger said. He said the hold on Johnson & Johnson vaccines would likely at least temporarily affect overall supply. “It’ll probably limit or lessen the availability because I’m sure they’ll spread out the Moderna and the Pfizer [vaccines] in areas where they were going to use Johnson & Johnson for now,” he stated.
Even before the news from the FDA broke, vaccine supplies were not yet hitting the targets health leaders had hoped for. When Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced all adults would be eligible for COVID vaccines in late March, he cited pledges of increased federal shipments of vaccines, and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the state expected to soon get over 500,000 doses a week. This week, Minnesota received just 287,000 doses, not counting federal allocations to pharmacies and Veterans Affairs, according to MDH. “While the supply seems to have leveled out for the time being, that amount will grow further,” Malcolm told the Post last week.
Winona County Public Health received an initial allocation of just 200 doses this week, Klinger reported. That’s down significantly from its normal total of 800 or more, and Klinger said a manufacturing error that spoiled 15 million Johnson & Johnson doses last month was part of the reason. However, another Minnesota county was unable to use all of their allocation, and Winona County Public Health received an additional 580 doses for 780 total, Klinger reported.
Overall, Klinger said he still felt good about the progress of vaccine distribution. “We feel really good that we’re getting there,” he stated.
As of April 11, 20,604 Winona County residents — 41 percent of the population — had received their first dose. Buffalo County is doing nearly as well, with 39 percent of residents having received their first dose, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). In Trempealeau County, 42 percent of the population has received at least one dose.
Local infections stable
While infection rates are climbing across Minnesota, local COVID infections remain steady and relatively low.
Winona County saw 29 new cases this week, compared to 25 last week and 30 the week before, according to MDH. There were no new deaths.
In Trempealeau County, cases were down after rising sharply in late March. There were 11 new cases this week, down from 17 last week, according to DHS. The county health department reported three recent hospitalizations for COVID, and one Trempealeau County resident died from the virus, DHS reported last week, bringing the county’s total deaths to 39.
In Buffalo County, there were two new cases this week, down from four last week. There were no new deaths.