Top health officials celebrated the authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Monday, calling it another safe and effective option for Americans, as millions of doses make their way to states.
Members of the COVID-19 Response Team encouraged people to get their shot as soon as a vaccine becomes available to them, no matter which company it comes from, pointing out that the newly-authorized vaccine is effective in preventing severe COVID-19, the main objective of the shot.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single dose and doesn’t require strictly cold temperatures for storage, making it more easily accessible to communities that are typically harder to reach. The first doses are expected to reach states Tuesday.
On Monday, the response team addressed questions about its efficacy, which is lower than the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both which prevent COVID-19 disease at about a 95 percent rate.
According to clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 72 percent effective at preventing moderate and severe cases of COVID-19 when tested in the U.S. and 66 percent effective when tested on more people and against variants of the disease across the U.S., South Africa and South America.
“We have three highly efficacious vaccines that also [have] a very good safety profile,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Monday.
On Sunday night, 3.9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson shot began shipping across the country, which reflects the company’s entire inventory so far.
Senior administration officials warned that shipments would be “uneven” in the coming weeks as the company ramps up production, since shots will go out as soon as they’re made. Johnson & Johnson has promised 20 million total doses by the end of March.
On Monday, health officials once again urged Americans to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, no matter which company’s shot they’ll get.
“This is all very, very good news,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, who leads the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. “As a physician, I strongly urge everyone in America to get the first vaccine that is available to you when it is your turn.”
Nunez-Smith also addressed equity, as some state and local officials raised concerns that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be disproportionately allocated to marginalized communities because it’s easier to ship, which could create the perception that the slightly less-effective vaccine is going to lower-income and minority Americans.
“We do think that the distribution, again, should be even across communities,” she said. “We will be tracking by metrics such as zip code and social mobility to see where vaccines are going. And should certain vaccines go consistently to certain communities, we will be able to intervene.
COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients also said the administration was aware of the nationwide issues with vaccine registration, including websites that crash due to high demand and eligible Americans missing their chance to sign up because of tech issues.
Zients said they’re working with states to improve their websites and also considering “lower tech” options such as call centers.
“Overall, scheduling remains — for far too many people — too frustrating,” he said. “And we need to make it better.”