Local health leaders still encourage Johnson & Johnson vaccine, say benefits ‘far outweigh the risks’

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — ‘Every vaccine matters’ is one of the messages tri-county area health leaders pushed during Thursday’s weekly press conference.

Monica Hendrickson, public health administrator for the Peoria City/County health department, said 32.5% of Peoria County is fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and repeated for the region to move forward everyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine has to get it.

However, Hendrickson acknowledged that vaccine hesitancy still exists and she along with Dr. Abeer AlMajali, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria, specifically acknowledged the rocky history with Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

About two weeks ago, the FDA paused the J&J vaccine after reports of a rare side effect, a clotting disorder, mainly seen in women under the age of 50.

“Right now, we know that there are 15 cases out of the 8 million vaccines administered all over the U.S. so again it’s a very rare occurrence,” AlMajali said. “It was picked up because of our very strict safety monitoring that has been going on.”

She said the pause did allow health leaders to see there is a possible link between the side effects and the vaccine, but she said it also gave doctors time to determine not only do the benefits outweigh the risks but also time to develop a treatment plan for the side effects.

“It helped the American Society of Hematology, these are doctors who treat blood disorders and clotting disorders, to come up with a treatment plan, a treatment guidance, in case these patients do show up to the emergency room,” AlMajali said.

Now that the vaccine has gotten clearance to continue, she said she’s still encouraging the public to get the shot.

“The benefits of the J&J vaccine far outweigh this risk,” AlMajali said. “What’s important to note is that although this side effect is new to the vaccine itself, we have seen this disorder before in the medical literature, it’s not completely foreign to us and we’ve treated it before.”

She’s also reminding the public about the Pfizer and Moderna options for those who are still uneasy about getting the one-dose vaccine.

Hendrickson repeated the benefits outweigh the risks and said they’re pursuing a ‘no arm left untouched’ mission to motivate everyone who’s eligible for the vaccine to get one.

“Considering all three vaccines are available, and readily available in our public, we want to make sure people are taking advantage of that.”

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