The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a lower efficacy rate than other coronavirus shots, but public health officials are still hailing it as a way to decrease serious illness and hospitalizations.
The FDA approved emergency authorization of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine late Saturday, after a panel of experts advising the FDA endorsed it late Friday.
Regional public health officials have struggled as demand for the vaccine far outpaces supply.
The availability and administration of a third source of vaccines — adding to the Pfizer and Moderna doses already available — is expected reduce the friction of a vaccine rollout that has public health officials and patients frustrated.
In Virginia, 14.5% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. Maryland's rate is 13.6%, and DC, 7.7 %. The national rate is 14.2%.
But there has been no shortage of technical and logistical glitches, including shipment delays, long lines and frustrating experiences with web appointment platforms.
Virginia's vaccine coordinator Danny Avula calls the Johnson & Johnson version an "exciting increase" for the state.
Avula says the Virginia is administering an average of 60,000 doses of vaccines per day as of February 24th. Next week, the state could see an additional 69,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, if it is authorized. Avula calls that a "one time" delivery, followed by a drop-off in the next couple of weeks, then a ramp-up in later March. The state has yet to decide how the Johnson & Johnson doses will be allocated. Public health officials are awaiting federal guidance on that.
Avula said one possibility for distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be focusing on mass vaccination events, to ensure that people receiving the shot are aware of the distinctions between it and the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines already in use.
The Johnson & Johnson shot requires just a single dose and simple refrigeration, making it less logistically complicated to distribute than the other two shots. But its 72% efficacy rate in the U.S. is lower than the nearly-100% ones of the two other vaccines.
But public health officials are still pleased that a third vaccine is authorized. Avula called the Johnson & Johnson shot a "phenomenal option," noting that while the efficacy rate is lower, the vaccine has proved 100% effective at preventing severe illness and hospitalizations.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he was told by federal partners that the state could also receive Johnson & Johnson vaccines as early as the first week in March, though state officials are not predicting the number of doses. He added that officials are working on plans to integrate the new vaccine into current vaccine allocations.
Naomi Starobin contributed reporting.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.