The first doses of Johnson & Johnson's just-authorized COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive this week in Minnesota. No one should hesitate to get this new, one-shot option, advises M Health Fairview's Dr. Abe Jacob.
With three vaccines now available, Jacob worries that shotseekers may decide to wait until one becomes available from a certain manufacturer, mistakenly believing one vaccine is better than another. His recommendation for patients is to say, "Give me whatever you got."
"I would not prioritize one over another," said Jacob, who is the health care system's chief quality officer and lead physician on its vaccine rollout. "Looking at the data, I would be very comfortable with me or any of my family members getting any one of these vaccines."
That there is not just one but three vaccines now available would have beggared belief a year ago as the pandemic began disrupting life around the globe. The challenge now: manufacturing enough vaccine and the complicated logistics of getting the shots into arms.
Ending the pandemic hinges on how fast this can happen, which is why the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a game-changer. Cleared over the weekend for use by U.S. authorities in those 18 and older, its new availability will significantly boost vaccine supply. More encouraging news came Tuesday when President Joe Biden announced that the pharmaceutical giant Merck would join forces with J&J, one of its key competitors, to ramp up vaccine production.
J&J is slated to deliver around 16 million doses by the end of this month, according to Monday's briefing from the White House COVID-19 Response Team. That figure will dramatically increase as the weather warms.
"We are confident in our plans to deliver 100 million single-dose vaccines to the United States during the first half of 2021," J&J executive Dr. Richard Nettles said at a Feb. 23 U.S. House hearing. The company aims to hit the 1 billion mark by the year's end.
Another key benefit with the J&J vaccine is that only one shot is needed, unlike the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna series. Its temperature requirements for storage and transport are also considerably less complicated than the other two. This will make it easier to set up vaccination sites closer to those who need it. In addition, it will free up health care staff to focus on giving the shots vs. scheduling a second dose or overseeing storage.
Needing one shot vs. two should be a terrific selling point. Still, there's growing concern that some shotseekers will deduce in error that the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are superior because they were well over 90% effective at preventing symptomatic illness after two doses in medical trials.
Jacob strongly rejected that concern during an interview with an editorial writer. He noted that no head-to-head study of the three has been done and said that an "apples to apples" comparison isn't possible due to different research frameworks and timelines. One example: Unlike the other two vaccines, J&J's research took place as more transmissible COVID variants were circulating.
And yet, the J&J vaccine still delivered impressive results. As Nettles noted in his congressional testimony, it provided "complete protection" against COVID-19 hospitalization and death, meaning there was none of either in those who had been vaccinated for 28 days or longer. The vaccine also demonstrated 85% effectiveness overall in preventing severe disease.
The correct conclusion, according to Jacob, is that there are three safe, highly effective COVID-19 vaccines available. "The health care community is extremely confident" in the trio, he said. "We just hope that if people have the opportunity to get vaccinated that they go and help end the pandemic as fast as possible."