Baker: J&J pause not significantly slowing vaccine effort

BOSTON — Massachusetts is forging ahead with plans to vaccinate as many residents as possible, despite placing a pause on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on the advice of federal authorities, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.

The vast majority of vaccine shots being administered in Massachusetts are the Moderna and Pfizer two-shot vaccines, according to the Republican.

The J&J vaccine accounted for just about 3% of the vaccines set to be administered in the state this week, Baker said. In the first COVID-19 briefing since one of the country’s vaccines was put on pause, the governor seemed assured the state can keep up with the timeline including hitting 2 million people becoming fully vaccinated this week.

“It is a relatively small part of our distribution to date and we do expect a modest growth in the Pfizer and Moderna supply going forward,” Baker said.

In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said they were investigating clots in six women that occurred in the days after the J&J vaccination. None of the six cases occurred in Massachusetts, Baker said.

But with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine’s future in limbo, Gov. Baker said the state may now have to switch all of its vaccination programs to one of the two-dose vaccines.

“The goal here will be to continue to do the outreach activities that we have been doing, and we will just focus them for the time being using Pfizer and Moderna supplies,” Gov. Baker said.

He added that those who have already received the J&J shot should contact their health provider if they start experiencing symptoms like severe abdominal pain, severe leg pain or severe headaches. He said general flu-like symptoms are to be expected.

This coming week, the state was expecting 11,600 doses of J&J, while the Moderna and Pfizer supply was at 340,000 doses. The governor said next week the federal government told the state that the two-dose supply number would go up by another 8%.

“We are basically on track with where we thought we were going to be back in December despite some of the bumps along the way,” Baker said.

Despite concerns over the J&J vaccine, Baker urged residents to continue getting their vaccine shots.

“Vaccines save lives,” he said, pointing to a dramatic drop in cases and hospitalizations among the state’s elderly population, the majority of whom have received their vaccine shots.

Baker also said that the Red Sox are teaming up with the mass vaccination site at the Hynes Convention Center next week to encourage members of disproportionately impacted communities to get vaccinated with the help of bilingual staff, signs in Spanish, appearances by Wally the Green Monster and a raffle for tickets to an upcoming Red Sox game.

In recent weeks, the state told Boston 25 News that J&J would be a game-changer, and, when they did get a bump in supply, they announced the homebound vaccine program, saying it would be much easier to use the one-dose vaccine when they were inoculating people who could not get to a mass vax site.

Health & Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said it will be more challenging logistically but they can pivot.

“We are quite capable of taking the homebound program and converting it to a two-dose program if that is what we will need to do,” Secretary Sudders said.

On Monday, everyone 16 and older will be able to sign up for an appointment to receive a vaccine in Massachusetts, although Baker cautioned that it could take several weeks to actually receive a shot given the pent-up demand.

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