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Johnson County will no longer be receiving shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, county health officials say.
Instead, the county will start getting doses of the Pfizer vaccine only, which is complicating some residents’ plans to get their second dose of the Moderna shot before the county uses up its current supply.
Still, county health officials stress they do currently have enough Moderna second doses for those needing them.
A spokesperson for JCDHE said the county would like to vaccinate all those needing second doses of the Moderna vaccine at a clinic scheduled for Friday, March 5, but will work with people who cannot make it that day to make sure they receive their dose at some point.
Johnson County residents who are due their second dose of the Moderna vaccine but cannot attend the March 5 clinic should contact JCDHE at 913-715-2819 or by email at JCDHE@jocogov.org as soon as possible to arrange other potential options.
A matter of cold storage
Some residents who are due for their second shot of the Moderna vaccine first heard the news this week when they received an email from JCDHE.
“JCDHE is only receiving Pfizer vaccine going forward,” the email said. “This may be your last opportunity to receive your 2nd dose Moderna with JCDHE. We strongly encourage you to make every effort to attend [next Friday’s] clinic.”
None of this should affect residents who have yet received their first shot.
The change in what type of vaccine the county receives comes down to the differing temperatures at which the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be stored.
Elizabeth Holzschuh, the county’s director of epidemiology, said Johnson County doesn’t get a say in how many doses or of what kind of vaccine it gets each week from the state.
She said Kansas has started saving the Moderna vaccine for other counties that don’t have ultra-cold freezers needed to keep the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures significantly lower than the Moderna vaccine. (Here’s a NPR explainer on why the Pfizer vaccine requires colder storage than the Moderna vaccine.)
Since Johnson County has the ability to store Pfizer vaccines, and smaller, more rural counties may not, Kansas will begin diverting Moderna doses to those other counties and send Pfizer doses to Johnson County.
Changes to second dose appointments
Areola said it’s been JCDHE’s long-term goal to make second dose appointments easier to coordinate.
He said uncertainty about distribution from the state has made it difficult for JCDHE to plan in advance because there has been doubt, at times, over how timely second doses would arrive.
County health officials have been hesitant to make appointments for doses they didn’t have in their possession yet, Holzschuh said.
Since vaccine distribution to the general public began in January, the county has largely relied on email to notify people when they can receive their second dose, instead of making appointments during their first dose administration.
There’s a three- to six-week window between when someone receives their first dose and when they should receive their second dose.
“We know that there’s been some frustrations about getting that second dose appointment scheduled,” Holzschuh said. “We know that individuals have been missed.”
JCDHE will soon begin conducting concurrent enrollment for first and second doses, meaning people will make their second dose appointment at the time when they get their first dose.
According to county health officials, second dose appointments will be scheduled exactly three weeks from the day you receive your first dose — at the same time of day and the same place you received your first dose.
In the meantime, people who already have first dose appointments scheduled will make their second dose appointment after they check out of the vaccine clinic following their first dose.
Holzschuh said JCDHE is hopeful this new plan will smooth the process and ensure people get their second doses in a timely manner.
Areola says people who have conflicts with their second dose date can still cancel or reschedule those appointments if necessary.
“We will do what we can to reschedule you,” he said. “There will be options there.”
What if I can’t get my second dose in time?
If you are due your Moderna second dose and are worried you won’t get it before the county runs out, you should reach out to JCDHE via email at JCDHE@jocogov.org.
That being said, not getting a second dose within the recommended 42-day window following the first dose won’t necessarily have negative effects in the long run, health experts say.
“Even though we say 42 days, current evidence is that you can even go out further than that point and still have a really robust immune response,” Holzschuh said.
As is the case with other multi-dose vaccines — like the Hepatitis C vaccine — delayed immunization still mounts a response that is similar.
Research has also shown that just getting the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine lowers someone’s chances of getting COVID-19 by more than 90%.
Editor’s note: Comments from a JCDHE spokesperson have been added to this article to clarify the county’s plan to vaccinate all residents who are currently due a Moderna second dose.