MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The line to get a COVID-19 vaccine at Hard Rock Stadium has been long ever since the site dropped the requirement to make an appointment this week.
And demand got even greater for the Pfizer vaccines administered at the stadium now that the CDC and FDA have put the Johnson & Johnson shot on hold as they investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots in six women.
“I am very, very happy,” Cecilia Davila said — and that was after she waited more than three hours at Hard Rock Stadium for a dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“As you can see, our lines have just increased exponentially,” said Dr: Rashid Chotani, medical director of AshBritt-IEM, the company contracted by the state to help run the stadium vaccination site.
Tuesday’s news of the J&J pause caused some sudden changes of plans, though officials during a federal briefing said J&J accounted for a small percentage of the doses already administered.
“Well, I was surprised by it,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday morning on Fox News, a day after he said Florida would follow the federal recommendation to suspend J&J shots. “We had no indication that this was coming.”
DeSantis has said he’s among the 6.8 million people nationally who have received the J&J vaccine, and he’s felt no ill effects other than a temporarily sore arm.
Experts say most people who got the J&J shot shouldn’t panic. The chance of developing cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, is extremely unlikely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday morning that they were looking into unusual clots in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One person died.
The acting FDA commissioner expected the pause to last only a matter of days.
Chotani noted that the serious blood clots have been experienced by literally one in a million people to receive the J&J shot, as federal officials are investigating six cases of the nearly 7 million to receive a dose of that vaccine.
Far more people are dying from COVID-19 itself than from vaccines.
“This disease, its risks and its long-term complications are far higher and far worse than any risk for any of the vaccines,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease professor at Florida International University.
Chotani, however, believes the pause is warranted.
“Make sure that our population, the American population, is not at a higher risk by taking a vaccine than otherwise,” he said.
The health agencies are recommending that people who were given the J&J vaccine who are experiencing severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after receiving the shot contact their health care provider.
About 60,000 people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at South Florida’s federally funded sites, which include Miami Dade College’s North Campus and the mobile sites.
“This is a little scary,” said Al Gonzalez, 70, who came to Hard Rock Stadium to get a Pfizer shot with his family Wednesday. “They needed to test more the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
People who were originally planning to get the one-shot J&J vaccine at Miami Dade College are now being turned away and rerouted to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where no appointment is needed and where 3,000 first doses of Pfizer are being offered daily.
The Hard Rock Stadium site has listed hours of 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. seven days a week, and people who are in line by 10 will get a shot as long as supplies last. While appointments aren’t required at that site, you are urged to preregister online at commvax.patientportalfl.com to reduce wait times.
Broward Health is also reminding community members they can register for a vaccine on their website, with a daily capacity of 2,000 Pfizer doses.
DeSantis said pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine isn’t going to have a huge effect on the vaccine rollout in Florida because the state already wasn’t planning to get that many doses.
That’s in part because a few weeks ago, a subcontractor in Baltimore accidentally mixed ingredients from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and another vaccine, which reportedly ruined 15 million doses at the factory.