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Traffic slows to a crawl at Mohegan Sun vaccination site offering Johnson & Johnson shots

Mohegan — Doses and doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine went begging Thursday at Mohegan Sun, where Yale New Haven Health’s mass vaccination site moved over the weekend from the casino’s Earth Expo & Convention Center to the vacant space formerly occupied by Seasons Buffet.

It could have been in the poker room for all the traffic it generated.

Fewer than 50 people had scheduled appointments in advance and fewer than a dozen walk-ups had come by seeking shots by mid-afternoon.

The clinic, which on this day was only offering the J&J vaccine — not Pfizer and not Moderna — opened at 10 a.m. and would stay open to 4 p.m. The scene around noon seemed to provide ample evidence that the federal government’s pause last month on use of the J&J vaccine fueled hesitancy among the public — perhaps over vaccines in general, as well as specifically over the J&J variety.

The pause came after the discovery of six U.S. cases of severe blood clots among nearly 7 million people vaccinated with the J&J vaccine, which, unlike its counterparts, requires only one shot. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require a second dose several weeks after the first.

Ten days after the J&J shutdown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed clinics to start administering J&J doses again.

Hesitancy over the J&J vaccine likely accounted for Thursday’s light turnout in the view of Airman 1st Class A.J. Raffles of the Connecticut National Guard, who was stationed at the buffet’s entrance. He said 90% of the scheduled appointments had been completed by noon and that by then he’d screened “five or six” walk-ups.

Several people arrived thinking Pfizer was on the menu and opted to reschedule when they learned it was J&J, Raffles said.

“Initially, people wanted J&J because it’s one and done, but that all changed after the pause,” he said. “People are apprehensive.”

Raffles said he tries to convince people otherwise, telling them the J&J vaccine wouldn’t have been re-released if it hadn’t been deemed safe.

“They hear a snippet of the news and they really hang on to it, which is unfortunate,” he said.

Sandy McPherson, the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital staff member in charge of the vaccination site Thursday, said the number of people getting vaccinated has dropped off in recent weeks for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that so many people already have gotten vaccinated.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office reported Thursday that 3.3 million doses of vaccine had been administered in the state, including 117,000 doses of J&J. The office anticipates that 70% of all adults in Connecticut will have had at least one dose by the end of the week.

Despite the slowdown in traffic at vaccination sites, neither Yale New Haven Health nor the governor’s office say they have any immediate plans to close sites.

“We’re hoping for a bump if the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 12- to 15-year-olds,” McPherson said, referring to federal authorization expected next week.

Currently, the Pfizer vaccine can be administered to those 16 and older while the threshold for Moderna and J&J shots is 18.

In early afternoon, a North Haven woman and her son kept appointments for shots, having passed up a vaccination site closer to home for the chance to get the J&J vaccine.

Gail Gambardella, 54, had gone for a vaccination back in March only to be turned down when a check of her temperature suggested she might have the coronavirus disease, which she did. Having recovered, she said she sought out the J&J vaccine so she’d be ready to travel with her husband to Italy to visit her 95-year-old mother-in-law as soon as that became a possibility.

She said friends who have gotten the J&J vaccine were “sold on it” and that she figures her chances of getting a blood clot are “the same as winning lotto.”

Her son said he liked the “one-and-done” aspect of J&J.

“I don’t worry about the news,” he said. “I understand why people might be hesitant ... but you need it. J&J got a bad rap.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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