Benton County officials urge Tri-Citians to get vaccinated despite J&J setbacks

Benton County Fairgrounds mass vaccination site
Image Credit: Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team, Facebook

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. — Officials from the mass vaccination site at the Benton County Fairgrounds are looking for eligible participants to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine TONIGHT. The site is operating until 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14 with the last appointment set for 7:30 p.m.

Overall, the Benton County Fairgrounds mass vaccination site has been one of the most successful operations in the entire state. Since opening in January, the site has administered over 51,000 vaccinations in total. As the amount of doses provided by state and federal leaders has increased, so has the volume at which the site is administering doses.

Ben Shearer of the Southeast Washington Interagency Incident Management Team is urging people to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

“This vaccine is our best offense against the virus right now,” Shearer said.

You can make your appointment by visiting the Washington Department of Health (DOH) PrepMod tool. Tomorrow, vaccine eligibility in the state of Washington extends to all individuals age 16+.

This officially makes all adults in the Tri-Cities eligible to receive their first dose. PrepMod is updated periodically with new appointments based on the number of vaccine doses available on a daily basis.

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The Benton County mass vaccination site was slated to begin administering Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines this week. However, state and federal leaders are holding off on the J&J vaccine after a small group of people had adverse reactions to their doses.

None of those instances took place in Washington state, according to Michele Robertsthe DOH’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Prevention and Community Health.

“In Washington, about 169,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered and we are not aware of these side effects happening in our state,” Roberts said. “The pause allows for further investigation and for further provider education to be aware of the possibility of this event so they’re on the lookout for it and to make sure healthcare providers know what the treatment options are.”

This development isn’t going to hinder operations at the fairgrounds since the site hadn’t begun administering the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine. Still, it left many Tri-Citiians frustrated after waiting days, weeks or even months for their appointments.

For Tri-Cities resident Jason Mercier, hearing that his appointment was canceled felt like a return to square one.

“I’ve been looking forward to this, I thought my day has come, the governor has opened the door, I got the appointment, and then out of left field comes this pause from the federal government,” Mercier said. “The role of the government is to provide us the best information to help make our own personal decisions — Not to dictate is what we should or shouldn’t do.”

The mass vaccination site offers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two doses 21 days apart. There haven’t been any adverse reactions to the Pfizer vaccine reported at the site, but many Tri-Citians said they would prefer the single-dose J&J shot.

PREVIOUS: Benton County Mass Vaccination Site to hold off on administration of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

“My expectations for the government is not to protect me from myself it’s to provide me the information to make an informed decision and allow me to weigh the risks,” Mercier said. “For almost a year we’ve been denied that ability to make those decisions and I’m just looking forward to getting back to having that ability.”

He added that with the “already stressful year, no one needs more uncertainty.”

When I went to bed Sunday night, I was going to be vaccinated Thursday evening. It was set, I had my appointment, it was good to go. Now all of that is in question,” Mercier said. “Am I able to finally move forward thinking that I have this added protection along with the other social distancing factors? Or do I have to start this process all over again and try to schedule something new?”

Mercier certainly isn’t alone in his frustrations. The site was expected to administer roughly 100 J&J doses per day starting on Monday, leaving many community members without an appointment. Shearer told KAPP-KVEW that anyone who was scheduled to receive a Johnson & Johnson dose can visit the site; he just asks that they make another appointment.

Though the site won’t be administering any Johnson & Johnson doses until further notice, Shearer isn’t worried about the vaccine.

“We’re talking about six cases out of over 6 million doses. This is really safer than anything else out there we do in the world,” Shearer said. “Driving across Tri-Cities is much more hazardous than getting a dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

You can book your appointment by visiting the DOH’s PrepMod tool here.

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