Image of Chad Worz, PharmD, BCGP

Now that vaccinators have been encouraged to resume using Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 shot, nursing home stakeholders are questioning what effect the recent pause will have on vaccine uptake in a wary population.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greenlit  the vaccine’s use on Friday, ten days after urging a halt while they reviewed rare reports of life-threatening blood clots. The health agencies ultimately determined that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed its risks. A warning will now be added to the drug’s label.

Long-term care pharmacies stopped administering the shots immediately after the halt was announced, Chad Worz, PharmD, chief executive of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. He and other industry stakeholders wonder if the pause and news of rare side effects will deter some nursing home residents and workers from accepting a vaccination.

“Some pharmacies only received the J&J vaccine to apply to their long-term care populations and those clinics have been put on hold,” he said. “This has impacted both the community and the long-term care settings.”

“The decision to pause, although certainly cautionary, may have caused more harm than good,” Worz added. “Long-term care pharmacies and pharmacists will be reactivated and run back toward the problem, but it will take leadership across disciplines, facilities, states and the nation to educate, convince and get us back on track,” he said. 

“Efforts will be made to convince and ‘re-convince’ an already skeptical group,” he said, referring in part to the many long-term care workers who have resisted getting vaccinated thus far. “We need to respond quickly, loudly and effectively to ensure we don’t lose some willing individuals to this blip in confidence.”

Overall, nationwide average vaccinations had dropped this week by 500,000 to 700,000 per day, Worz added. He attributed this to the pause.

J&J’s single-dose shot had reduced some of the logistical hurdles in vaccinating new residents and hires, according to a spokeswoman with the American Health Care Association who spoke to McKnight’s before the advisory panel’s vote. 

“We’ll also have to see if vaccine confidence among our population has been impacted by this,” she added.

The two major U.S. nursing home associations have set a goal of getting 75% of staff members vaccinated by June 30, a target that many were uncertain about even before the J&J vaccine halt sent ripples through the country.

The FDA and J&J reportedly will create updated communication and education materials about the drug in the coming days. Meanwhile, the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living continue to add resources to their #GetVaccinated campaign to help long-term care administrators encourage staff members and residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Providers may use the campaign’s digital communications materials to help communicate the importance of vaccination and highlight progress, the organization says. The communications toolkit includes an idea checklist, samples of social media strategies, and media prep material.

James Berklan and Alicia Lasek contributed to this report.