Lafayette College’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign was halted nearly as quickly as it began after St. Luke’s University Health Network, following CDC and FDA guidance, paused the administration of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-dose shot.
The pause came after six women in the US from ages 18 to 48 developed blood clots near the brain after receiving the J&J vaccine. Over 150 Lafayette students were scheduled to receive their shots on Tuesday before the news broke out.
Director of Public Health Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, who received calls from several concerned students, emphasized that “the risk from the J&J vaccine is extremely, extremely low – far less than one in a million.” By comparison, the chances of being struck by lightning–one in 500,000 according to the CDC–are double that.
He also noted that nearly seven million people had already received the vaccine without issue.
“The risk of COVID is far greater than the risk of getting the vaccine,” he said. “COVID itself causes clotting in far greater numbers than the vaccine probably does.”
The vaccine halt comes amidst an alarming increase in cases on campus, with 69 active student cases in isolation as of Thursday morning. This is the most since the beginning of the year, and Tuesday the college announced that all in-person student group events from April 15 to April 26 will be halted as well.
Although Goldstein said he anticipates the J&J vaccine to be “back online” soon, he and the Bailey Health Center are working with St. Luke’s to offer the two-dose Pfizer vaccine as a temporary substitute. He said he expects up to 450 Pfizer shots to be available possibly as soon as next week–more than enough for the 150 students whose appointments for the J&J vaccine were cancelled.
Students whose original vaccine appointments were cancelled will not have them rescheduled automatically. Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio wrote in an email that she believes there “remains availability with appointments locally” if students wish to schedule their shots sooner.
For students who get vaccinated off-campus, however, the issue is tracking who has and hasn’t been vaccinated on campus. While Bailey’s Health Center received some vaccine records from students via email, the real statistics are “way off” according to Goldstein.
“The biggest unknown we have right now is unclear data about who has already been fully vaccinated. We believe that the number is much higher than we initially anticipated,” Diorio noted.
To combat inaccurate vaccination records, in the coming days the College will release a COVID-19 vaccination survey wherein students can submit a copy of their vaccination card. As of April 26, students who submit their vaccine cards will no longer be submitted to weekly testing.
“There’s a motivation for the students to submit because I think a lot of students are kind of tired of the testing protocol,” Goldstein said.
This latest development has been an obstacle in what has otherwise been an effective vaccination campaign. Nearly 440 students had gotten the jab as of Monday, Goldstein said, and many were in good spirits, even posting vaccination card selfies online.
“It’s pretty great because hopefully we can start doing more stuff in person,” said Christopher Good ‘24 from the seat where he received his vaccine. “If everyone gets vaccinated, then everyone is going to be safer.”