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J&J vaccine authorized in Oregon and Washington, good option for houseless population

The one-shot vaccine would be the easiest way to ensure full immunization for vulnerable populations like houseless people, advocates said.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon and Washington have given the go-ahead for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be administered again after more than a week of review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Experts investigated 15 cases of blood clots out of nearly 8,000,000 J&J vaccinations administered across the country. Three people died, including an Oregon woman. After the ten-day pause, the FDA ruled the vaccine is safe for continued use.

However, as of Monday, according to vaccinefinder.org, most large chain pharmacies are still not offering the J&J vaccine.

Fred Meyer, QFC, and Rite Aid locations offer it in Portland and Vancouver. CVS and Walgreens told NBC News they will make appointments for the J&J vaccine in the upcoming week.

Oregon Health Authority said for people who have already received the immunization to monitor for blood clot symptoms for about three weeks. Those symptoms can include a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain and shortness of breath.

“Anyone past this time frame is probably okay,” said Dr. Paul Cieslak with the Oregon Health Authority.

The J&J vaccine is not only safe according to experts, but advantageous for vulnerable populations like the houseless.

"Because it would be extremely challenging with the community that we serve to get them back in three or four weeks,” said Scott Kerman with the Blanchet House, a nonprofit in Portland that provides meals and housing services for the houseless.

Before the pause on the J&J vaccine, Blanchet House and Multnomah County were planning a vaccination event. Now, planning can continue and this potentially life-saving effort can be brought to people where they are.

“I’m hearing they want the vaccine,” said Sam Junge, who volunteers with Portland People’s Outreach Project, providing harm reduction services for the houseless and those who are addicted to drugs. 

Junge said meeting people where they are both physically and culturally is important for successful outreach and education.

"It's our responsibility to meet their needs and to do so in a manner that's respectful and that recognizes the disparities and barriers they face," Junge said.

Blanchet House said COVID-19 cases have not been high in Portland’s houseless communities, in part because shelters have been able to provide protective gear. 

However, many in the houseless community have underlying health conditions, which can contribute to how severely the virus may impact them. The single-dose J&J vaccine could make a big difference.

"I do feel the people that we serve trust us. It's really critical to their health and welfare,” said Kerman.