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State expects to receive first doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in coming days

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

Delaware expects to receive 8,000 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine as early as the end of this week. 

Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine was approved for use by the FDA this weekend. It’s a one-dose regimen, and can be stored in a normal refrigerator for months. 

“The ability to give somebody a single vaccine and then send them on their way, and not have to worry about them making a second appointment really simplifies everything for all those trying to provide vaccine,” said Jennifer Horney, founding director of the Epidemiology Program at the University of Delaware.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines require two doses. The state reports that more than 220,000 doses of these vaccines have been administered in Delaware.

“To move to herd immunity, it’s good to have more vaccine out,” said Donna Patterson, a global health and epidemics expert at Delaware State University. “In that way, Johnson & Johnson is going to help, because it is easier to distribute, it’s easier to store, and also only one dose is needed.”

The Division of Public Health says it will continue to offer all available vaccines equally to eligible populations, and will not target any particular population for use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Vaccination is a critical tool in bringing this unprecedented pandemic to an end, and I encourage all eligible individuals to get vaccinated with the first vaccine available to you,” said state public health director Dr. Karyl Rattay in a statement Saturday. “Having different types of vaccines available for use, especially ones with different storage and handling requirements and dosing recommendations, can offer more options and flexibility for vaccine providers. We remain committed to vaccinating as many eligible Delawareans, as quickly as possible.” 

An international study showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and 85% effective at preventing severe or critical cases. The other approved vaccines showed higher efficacy in initial clinical trials. 

But Horney says people should not think of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as inferior.

“The [Johnson & Johnson] trials were conducted in other countries and at a later point in the pandemic when the variants were more prevalent,” Horney said. “So we don’t know that if the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine trials had happened in the same places and at the same time, they may very well have had the same efficacy as Johnson & Johnson.”

Horney says she hopes the additional vaccine supply can help the state start offering the vaccine to the next group of people. 

The state is currently in vaccine distribution phase 1B, under which people age 65 and over and certain essential workers such as teachers and correctional workers are eligible to receive the vaccine. The state originally planned to move to phase 1C, which includes people as young as 16 with high-risk medical conditions, prisoners, residents of homeless shelters, and additional groups of essential workers, on March 1. But early last month, due to “extremely limited supply” of the vaccine, the state delayed phase 1C indefinitely, vowing to move to phase 1C “as close to March 1 as possible.”

Patterson hopes this happens quickly.

“People with these high-risk medical conditions are definitely much more at risk than people who would not have these high-risk conditions, in some cases even people who might be two or three decades older than them," she said.

But Patterson notes the state is doing a “balancing act” as it decides when to move on to the next distribution phase. 

“I understand why they delayed it because there's really no reason to move to the next phase if you may not have the vaccine for people in those groups,” she said. 

The state expects ongoing allocations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be more limited than the initial distribution. Vaccine supply to the state has increased recently, but officials say there is still not enough to meet demand.

“We are thrilled to be able to have access to a third safe and effective vaccine in our state,” said Governor John Carney in a statement Saturday. “There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not out of the woods yet. Let’s all do what works until we can vaccinate enough Delawareans. Continue to wear face masks. Avoid gatherings. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Stay vigilant.”

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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