by CHRIS ROGERS
Vaccine hesitancy is continuing to slow down local COVID immunization efforts. Last week, despite a large number of second doses given, the number of people receiving their first COVID vaccine shot in Winona County dropped to the lowest level since February.
“That wasn’t a lack of vaccine. That was actually the first time we didn’t fill a clinic,” Winona County Emergency Manager Ben Klinger said. “We had vaccine availability and it didn’t fill up.”
Last week, Winona County posted a whopping 2,796 second shots administered, but only 642 first shots, according to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) data. For the last two-plus months, the number of first shots given each week ranged from 1,000 to 3,000, so last weeks’ figure represents a remarkable decline in people beginning the vaccination process. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots; the Johnson & Johnson requires only one.
“We’ve kind of hit that plateau of people who were really seeking the vaccine out, and we now really need to start reaching people and educating people,” Klinger said.
Local health officials in Trempealeau County hosted a question and answer session with local health care providers about vaccines last week. Klinger said Winona County was planning various outreach efforts.
Also last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted their pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. That product had been briefly pulled after vaccine safety monitoring efforts detected a few cases of rare but dangerous blood clots developing in vaccine recipients. According to the CDC 15 women who received the J&J vaccine developed clots — out of nearly 7 million doses administered. The Washington Post reported that three of the women died. After reviewing the cases, national health authorities decided the benefits of protection from COVID outweigh the risks, and patients should have the option to take J&J vaccine after being fully informed of the risks. “A review of all available data at this time shows that the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks for those recommended to receive it,” a CDC statement reads. “However, women younger than 50 years old should be aware of the rare but increased risk of blood clots with low platelets after vaccination, and that other COVID-19 vaccines are available where this risk has not been seen.”
According to the FDA, J&J vaccine recipients should “seek immediate medical attention if they develop shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms (including severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision), or petechiae [a type of rash] beyond the site of vaccination.”
Klinger said Winona County requested J&J doses as part of its allotment next week — the county typically gets mostly Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but sometimes a smaller amount of the J&J product. “We’ve heard from some people that that’s the vaccine they want and they didn’t want to take any other vaccine,” he explained.
COVID cases were steady in Winona County, with 26 infections this week, compared to 30 last week. Infections in Trempealeau County were up slightly, with 19 cases this week, up from 12 last week. Infections declined in Buffalo County, with five cases this week compared to 10 last week. Two more Trempealeau County residents died as a result of COVID, bringing the county’s death toll to 41 since the pandemic began.