Westport, Weston resume Johnson & Johnson clinics

Empty vials that contained a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus lie on a table as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on Feb. 18, 2021. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Empty vials that contained a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus lie on a table as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign at the Klerksdorp Hospital on Feb. 18, 2021. (Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Phill Magakoe/AFP / TNs

WESTPORT — The Westport Weston Health District has resumed its Johnson & Johnson clinics after the federal pause.

State officials announced on Saturday that clinics could offer the one-shot vaccine again following a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine had been paused so officials could look into reports of several women developing blood clots after receiving it.

The FDA has issued revised fact sheets for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now warning of the risk of blood clots with symptoms to watch for.

“When you balance it all out, it’s still a safe vaccine and it’s an option,” said Mark Cooper, the health director for the district which serves Westport, Weston and Easton.

The Westport Weston Health District currently offers Moderna or Johnson & Johnson at specific clinics.

About 300 people had originally signed up for a scheduled Monday clinic where the J&J vaccine would be given, but about half decided they no longer wanted that option and rescheduled for a Moderna clinic instead, Cooper said.

He said the district had already started seeing less demand for the clinics, but that wasn’t necessarily because of the Johnson & Johnson’s pause.

“I think those who wanted to be vaccinated already have,” Cooper said. “It’s really not hard to find a vaccination site of their choice with the vaccine of their choice.”

At least half of the people in the three main age groups the state tracks are vaccinated in some way in the three towns, according to state data.

Within Westport, about 94 percent of those 65 and older have gotten their first dose, 85 percent of those 45 to 64 have at least a first dose and 59 percent for those 15 to 44 have had at least one vaccine dose. For Weston, the breakdown is 100 percent, 78 percent and 58 percent respectively for first doses. Easton has 90 percent, 70 percent, and 50 percent for those same age groups, according to the state data Tuesday morning.

“I think they’re good,” Cooper said of the numbers. “You can’t get better than 100 percent.”

He said he wasn’t sure if the remaining percentages for some of the older demographics were because of hesitancy or because they had trouble accessing the vaccine. The district had been administering Johnson & Johnson to homebound residents because it only required one dose, which Cooper said they hope to continue.

“We had done some with Moderna but we’re hoping to return to homebound with J&J,” Cooper said.

Cooper said it’s important to reach out to those who might not be vaccinated and help educate them on the vaccines.

Part of this is done through the three towns’ social services departments.

The health district doesn’t receive Pfizer — the only vaccine approved for people younger than 18 — and so hasn’t organized specific clinics for high school students in any of the three towns, but Cooper said they would help a school district organize one in-house if requested.

“It’s more the school district taking the lead on it,” he said.

Cooper said he’ll adjust the district’s Moderna and Johnson & Johnson supply based on public demand. Several weeks ago, more people had wanted Johnson & Johnson, but that has since shifted after the pause with more interest in Moderna.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said he was pleased about the vaccination rates.

“These vaccination statistics are encouraging, and it is recommended that all residents who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine do so as soon as possible,” he said.

Marpe said the vaccine rate is the reason some restrictions can be eased statewide and Westport can start planning some of its usual activities, including the Memorial Day parade, the Downtown Merchants Association’s Fitness and Health Expo set for May 1 and the Fine Arts Festival for May 29 and 30.

The Center for Senior Activities and Toquet Hall are planning for possible outdoor and limited indoor programming in late spring or early summer, he said.

“The Parks and Recreation Department is currently preparing to open its facilities and is planning to offer programs that were not available last summer due to COVID-19,” Marpe said. “The department’s goal is to create safe environments for all facility users and program participants by following best practices and state guidelines.

The Levitt Pavilion already announced its first show will be June 14.

Westport is also considering moving its public meetings to a hybrid format that would allow both in-person and remote participation.

“The plans for townwide re-opening and the opportunity for Westporters to ‘return to normal’ are encouraging, but we should be cautiously optimistic,” Marpe said. “According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, 122 municipalities out of 169, including Westport, remain in the highest COVID alert level (red). This designation is cause for concern, although more recent daily statistics indicate a downward curve in the spread.”

A new “same day” testing site has also opened in town. Progressive Diagnostics is offering the service at the Saugatuck Railroad Station Parking Lot 8, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

“It is also important to understand and recognize that being vaccinated does not prevent individuals from being COVID positive and transmitting the virus,” Marpe said. “Please continue to remain informed and balance COVID safety with personal priorities for physical and mental well being.”

He also asked residents to be empathetic about others’ choices.

“I encourage those who are vaccinated to be mindful and respectful of those who are not or have differing opinions about the current guidelines and status of the pandemic,” he said. “Westport town officials will continue to follow and employ the science experts’ advice and guidance so that all in our community will be safe and healthy.”