President Joe Biden announced plans to purchase 100 million extra Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses on Wednesday, giving the country more than enough supply to vaccinate all U.S. adults. The single dose vaccine was approved for emergency use by the FDA in February and is starting to be rolled out across the country this month.
Dr. Tony Mills, the CEO of the Men’s Healthcare Foundation, tells Inside the Issues the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a “game changer” since it only requires one dose and does not need any intense refrigeration. He notes it’s often challenging to get people to return for the second shot of Pfizer or Moderna, so the new vaccine will help ensure more Americans are protected against the virus.
“The fact that we can actually secure in one dose that someone has protection is amazing,” Mills said. “For some people it’s very difficult to get to the site, people who live in rural areas or lack transportation, so one dose makes a huge, huge difference.”
The Johnson & Johnson trials showed the vaccine to be 77% effective, but Mills notes this number should not be compared to Pfizer and Moderna because the trial occurred later in the pandemic when COVID-19 cases were more severe and more variants were circulating. He also says Johnson & Johnson’s trial included a diverse group of patients who were older and more immuno-compromised than other vaccine trials.
“They reached out and said bring us your sickest patients, bring us the people at most risk for COVID, bring us your Black and Brown communities, bring us your obese patients, your hypertensive patients, your diabetic patients, your patients living with HIV, bring us your elderly patients,” Mills explained.
He says trial sites for Johnson & Johnson vaccines targeted diverse communities by setting up in locations within walking distance of high-risk neighborhoods. The pharmaceutical company launched sites in West Hollywood and Inglewood, and employed people of color to help run the trials.
“It’s not that communities are impossible to connect with, it’s that you have to know how to connect with them and you have to have social humility about that and you have to reach out and do everything you can to connect with those communities and then they’ll trust you and listen to your recommendations,” Mills said.
Dr. Mills has plenty of past experience dealing with epidemics after completing his residency in San Francisco during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Since then, he has conducted several clinical trials for HIV treatment and prevention. He explains the most important lesson he learned from the last epidemic was to not give up.
“Just like in the HIV pandemic we didn’t believe it, but we evolved and now it’s going to evolve in the COVID crisis and it's evolving much quicker now,” Mills added. “We learned so much from the HIV epidemic, so I caution people just to be patient and know the people who are bright-minded and innovative are working on it. We’re going to see a better world, I promise.”
Even though people may feel trapped in our current COVID-19 world, he says normalcy is just around the corner with the vaccine rollout picking up and positive cases trending downward. Dr. Mills adds he’s proud of the work he’s done on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials and fully backs the safety and effectiveness of the new vaccine.
“They’re not working at the behest of their shareholders, they’re working at the behest of the good of the people they take care of. They know how important this is,” Mills said.
Let Inside the Issues know your thoughts and watch Monday through Friday at 8 and 11 p.m. on Spectrum News 1.