Pima County Health hopeful new concerns over J&J won’t slow vaccination rate

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 9:04 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Arizona is following nationwide trends with a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases, however, hospitalizations and deaths remain at a near all-time low.

There are concerns, though, that another condition linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may prop-up vaccine hesitancy and pause progress towards population protection.

“We are doing very well compared to the state overall,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the Pima County Health Director. “We are at 70.3% of adults receiving their first vaccine dose. We are seeing an increase, which I think is the really important thing. If we were at 70.3% and we were stuck there we would worry about that.”

Dr. Cullen says the Pima County Health Department is seeing an increase of about 0.1% in COVID-19 vaccinations each day.

“It’s a pretty significant number of vaccines,” she said. “We need a couple thousand vaccines every day.”

Several other counties in Arizona have leveled off with almost no new vaccines being administered.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration put out a warning about a possible increased risk of a rare neurological condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. GBS causes the immune system to attack the nervous system, resulting in muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. Out of 12.8 million Americans who received the J&J vaccine, 100 developed symptoms within 42 days.

Pima County’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Francisco Garcia, sent KOLD News 13 the following statement:

“Pima County residents are lucky enough to be able to choose from the abundant supply of the three vaccines that are currently available. GBS appears to be a serious but very rare complication that may occur in association with use of the J&J/Janssen product, but it may still be the right choice for individuals looking for a single-dose vaccination option.”

With the Delta variant now the dominant strain in the US, Dr. Cullen says vaccination is still the best way forward.

“We have some very isolated reports of break-through; one out of Israel last week,” she said. “Overall - and I was just on a call with the CDC this morning and they are saying, and I agree with what them - that we are still seeing the protections from the Delta variant with the current immunizations that we have.”

Last week, BioNTech announced it’s developing a Pfizer booster shot to combat new strains. However, Dr. Cullen believes a third dose is months away FDA approval, as the company has to show “waning immunity” first.

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