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Unvaccinated health-care workers to get priority for Johnson & Johnson vaccines arriving in B.C. next week

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Health-care workers will be given first priority for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which B.C. health officials say is expected to arrive by next week.

In a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the supply of the J&J vaccines will be limited.

“It will be available first for any health-care worker who wants to use this as their way of getting back to work.”

B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health-care workers means that anyone who isn’t fully vaccinated against the virus is currently on unpaid leave. But, Henry says there are health-care workers who are still unvaccinated but have been waiting for the J&J vaccine to get immunized.

“Some health care workers have said that this is the only option they will consider right now,” Henry said. “Our first priority will be offering it to health-care workers.”

WHAT'S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE J&J VACCINE

The J&J vaccine is considered a more traditional vaccine as it uses virus-based technology, as opposed to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which use mRNA.

While the first couple of weeks administering the J&J vaccine will prioritize those in health care, Henry says there will be some available for others later on.

“There have been a lot of people who've reached out to me asking for the J&J vaccine,” she said. “We will have some available and we will be providing you with the details next week of how you can access this through a central call-in number.”

Among health-care workers, 97 per cent have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and are considered fully vaccinated, according to Dix.

Two per cent haven't had any shots, and the remaining one per cent have just the first dose.

The incoming J&J vaccine is different from other vaccines currently available in B.C. because a person is considered fully vaccinated after just one dose.

“It's been widely used in the U.S. as a single dose vaccine. And it has good, strong protection … the same as the two doses of AstraZeneca,” Henry said.

Henry said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has recently received approval from the U.S. CDC for the vaccine to be given as a booster shot six months after a person receives their primary dose. But, she noted, the company has not yet applied for approval of boosters in Canada. 

HEALTH CANADA UPDATES SIDE EFFECTS

Common side effects from the J&J vaccine are temporary and can last a few hours to a few days, according to Health Canada’s web page on the vaccine

“This is the body's natural response, as it's working hard to build protection against the disease,” reads the Health Canada website.

These side effects may include redness, soreness, swelling, chills, fatigue, joint pain, headache, muscle aches or a mild fever.

On Nov. 9, Health Canada said it’s updating the labels on the J&J vaccines (also known as the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine) to include warnings of very rare side effects.

The move provides “additional information about the very rare risk of immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), an autoimmune condition, and the rare risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) following vaccination,” reads a statement from the national health agency.

As the vaccine is still new in Canada, the agency is also providing information on what kind of side effects to watch out for. Health Canada says to seek medical attention if, after receiving the J&J vaccine, you have unexplained bleeding or bruising, small purplish spots beyond the site of vaccination, shortness of breath, chest pain, leg pain or swelling, or persistent abdominal pain.

Other rare side effects, for which people should also seek prompt medical attention, include swelling of the lips and mouth, itchy hives, sudden low blood pressure, vomiting and diarrhea or loss of consciousness.

But, Health Canada urges that people not be deterred, because the vaccine is approved for use in Canada and is overall safe and effective against the coronavirus.

“Our decisions are based only on scientific and medical evidence showing that vaccines are safe and effective. The benefits must also outweigh any risks,” reads the website. 

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