COVID Vaccine clinic

A COVID-19 vaccine is delivered by a member of Terry Reilly Health Services staff during a clinic at Homedale Middle School on Jan. 29, 2021.

Last week, when the United States temporarily halted use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Idaho public health officials saw the number of people accepting vaccines to decrease.

Following months of mostly increasing numbers of COVID-19 vaccine doses being administered in Idaho, state numbers peaked at nearly 95,000 two weeks ago before dropping down below 70,000 last week. Rates haven’t been that low since the last week of February, according to the state’s tracking.

Although much of the drop was simply caused by canceled J&J appointments, officials worry that Idahoans are growing more wary of COVID-19 vaccines.

The decline “indicates it was mostly Johnson & Johnson vaccine and a little bit of a drop in the other vaccines as well,” state public health administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch told reporters at a virtual news conference Tuesday. “We’ve also heard anecdotally that many scheduled appointments across the state had no shows in addition to canceled clinics.”

“We’re worried that people are becoming increasingly hesitant in a time when we need to see our vaccination rates increase,” she said.

About 30,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered in Idaho.

Shaw-Tulloch said the rate of vaccine doses the state receives and administers is 73.1%, trailing the national rate of 80%. To help close that gap, Shaw-Tulloch said the state is creating a grant program to expand mobile vaccine sites and sites with walk-up appointments. She said the state is also working with insurers to potentially set up transportation aid and with Gov. Brad Little’s economic rebound task force to support business and employee vaccination efforts.

“We are concerned that we are already seeing a sharp drop off in vaccine uptake,” said Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho’s top public health researcher. Some of the drop is because the J&J shot was paused, she said, “but some of this might be a general vaccine hesitancy because people just now not being sure about any of the vaccines.”

Hahn stressed that the two-dose vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are still proving to be safe — nearly one year after people began receiving them in clinical trials; officials don’t suspect those shots to be linked to blood clots.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is paused in the U.S. after reports surfaced that eight of around 7 million people inoculated with the one-shot vaccine experienced brain blood clots. One person died. Federal regulators meet Friday to discuss more data about what to do next with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Associated Press reported that the European Medicines Agency on Tuesday said the reported clotting problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be considered “very rare side effects of the vaccine” and recommended a warning be added to the label. J&J immediately announced it will revise its label as requested and resume vaccine shipments to the EU, Norway and Iceland, the AP reported.

Dutch health minister Hugo de Jonge said the Netherlands would start immunizing with the J&J vaccine on Wednesday, the AP reported.

“We really don’t know the long-term effects of COVID yet, but what we do know from short-term and medium term is pretty dire,” Hahn said. “There are some very severe risks at the time of the illness that we hear so much about,” in addition to reports that many people with “long haul” symptoms continue to feel sick months after infection.

Idaho immunization head Sarah Leeds said vaccine providers are sometimes hesitant to take additional doses that are slated for them out of fear that they can’t meet Little’s directive to give out all shots within a week.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said providers in the state have 3 1/2 weeks’ worth of vaccine inventory. He said the state appears to be “rapidly approaching” a time when there’s more COVID-19 vaccine doses than people who want to take them immediately.

The CDC announced on Monday that more than 50% of American adults had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to ABC News. Just more than four in 10 Idahoans age 16 and up have received at least one dose. Nearly 72% of seniors in Idaho have gotten at least one shot, compared to 80% nationally, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.