Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Delaware was told not to expect any more doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine this month after its initial allocation of 8,000 doses in early March.

But Jim Talbott, Immunization Director for the Division of Public Health, told WDEL they got a surprise.

"We got some trickling in these last two weeks; we weren't expected to get any at all these past few weeks--and we got 1,100 doses each of the weeks," he said.

But as for what lies ahead, Dr. Rick Hong, state medical director, said there's a lot of uncertainty--even for the end of this month and early next month.

"There might be further delays with the Johnson & Johnson delivery. We get projections at a three-week period, and there are no projections on Johnson & Johnson on when we'll get some and how much," he said at a recent COVID-19 vaccination task force meeting.

Talbott said the state is expecting more J&J vaccine in the following weeks. On Tuesdays, the state gets its vaccine allocations for the following week, so they may know more then. 

Public health officials continue to recommend that Delawareans not "vaccine shop" and get whatever vaccine is made available to them at the time of inoculation. Demand for all vaccines continues to outpace supply even as allocations increase.

The state is preparing to open its waiting list to Delawareans 50 and older starting Tuesday, March 23, after one last major effort to vaccinate seniors at Dover International Speedway over the weekend.

The state has eliminated its approach to phases in favor of an age-based approach with vaccinations now open to Delawareans 50 and older at area pharmacies. Additionally, those 16 and older with moderate or high-risk health conditions can get vaccinated at their doctor's offices; if their provider is not a vaccinator, they're asked to refer their patients to a hospital or health care system that is providing vaccinations. 

Those with health conditions don't have a pharmacy vaccination option at the moment, but that could change.

"We were talking with how we could accommodate [that]. We did say maybe have a prescription, but we did get some comments from providers that they don't want to be burdened by giving out letters, and prescriptions, and orders for vaccines, so there's a balancing act with that, but I think there may be some opportunity to do some of that," said Hong.

Delaware ditches phased approach to vaccination

Delaware has also departed from its phases, implementing an age-based approach instead.

"We really have to get out of the 1a, 1b, 1c perspective, and just accelerate putting vaccine in people's arms across-the-board," said Governor John Carney.

The switch has created some confusion, admitted Hong, who said departure from the phases comes with a sped-up timeline facilitated by President Joe Biden's pledge for vaccine to be available to all Americans by May 1.

"It does just kind of alter our approach to phases, and I agree with you that phases may be too confusing, people are focused on phases, so we're looking at how to best represent this," said Hong.

"We recognize that in order to make more people eligible for vaccine since we were getting increased supply, we were going to need to change things, and taking the age-based approach was really not going to fit into the existing plan of phases," said DPH spokeswoman Andrea Wojchik.

It especially created confusion among essential employees, who were listed in the previous 1c phase, many who had felt forgotten. The state said it continues to extend invites for vaccination to front-line essential workers, if employers have linked up with the state to create vaccination plans.

"We worry about smaller businesses that don't have the internal capacity to manage something like this," Carney told WDEL. "We've talked about having pods to do that. Obviously, the waiting list that started with 50 and older and moves younger, and younger, will be an opportunity for those folks as well, gradually moving away from the employer-based approach to an age-based approach."

While a business may be too small for a pod, DPH director Dr. Karyl Rattay said no business with essential front-line workers is too small to request vaccination of its employees.

"Even small employers, even if you've just got a couple that fit in the group, please email because we are getting invitiation opportunities out to any size business that has essential employees," she said. "It's still right now the best and most organized approach that we have."

Those invitation opportunities could come in a variety of forms, including vaccination by appointment at large-scale events at Dover International Speedway or through Curative at Delaware Tech campuses.

While the state did consider allowing other essential workers to be vaccinated at pharmacies, the state said pharmacies preferred vaccinating by age.

"They have told us that the best way for them is just to have an age cutoff, so we think they can be a better part of our foundation here with just the limitation that they can easily verify with a driver's license that indicates a person's age," said Carney. 

"The age is the easiest thing to let them get people in the door, and we we want to make sure we don't slow it down so that's why we're doing one thing with the medical community, another thing with the pharmacies, and then these other public events are a little more the back-stopper [for] essential employees, seniors," said A.J. Schall, director of the Delaware Emergency Management Agency. "When May gets here, it will be easy. No more policing who signs up, we'll just have to get people in the door."