Trucks from production plants in Kentucky and Tennessee carrying Johnson & Johnson’s [J&J] COVID-19 vaccine, which requires a single dose instead of two shots and can be stored at warmer temperatures than those of Pfizer and Moderna, headed across the U.S. by both road and air on Monday, March 1 after the Food and Drug Administration approved the medication on Feb. 27.

Based on data released by the Centers for Disease Control, New Jersey received roughly 70,000 doses on Wednesday. An additional 22,500 doses were distributed to Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies which both count among chains included in the Federal Retain Pharmacy Program.

But who will be among those citizens that will have a place in line for the J&J vaccine?

In a press conference on Monday, Governor Phil Murphy said Blacks and Latinos will be among his priorities in an effort to increase the vaccination rate within hard-to-reach, minority communities.

Health officials contend that the strategy will reduce inequities in the state’s vaccine distribution system.

“This is a game-changer to get more shots in arms,” Murphy said, pointing to the benefits of the new vaccine from the Brunswick, New Jersey-based company. He defended its effectiveness, noting that tests for it were conducted “in the teeth” of a South American surge in COVID-19 with variants and that the vaccine has proven highly effective against deaths and hospitalizations.

The J&J vaccine is 93 percent effective against cases severe enough to need a hospital stay New Jersey Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said.

For those who still have not gotten the vaccine and would like to make an appointment with CVS, the pharmacy continues to schedule appointments on its website, or through its pharmacy phone app. Walk-ins are not allowed but those without internet access can contact CVS customer service at 800-746-7287.

Evaluation of the J&J Vaccine

The FDA confirms that J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against serious illness, hospitalizations and death. In a study that encompassed three continents, one dose proved 85 percent protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, even in countries like South Africa where variants of most concern continue to spread. However, the J&J rate (72 percent) stands lower than the 95 percent efficacy shown by vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

Health officials expressed concern that this variance could lead Americans to try to “vaccine shop.” Meanwhile, it remains difficult to make direct comparisons between the vaccines because clinical trials were conducted in different locations at different times.

For example, the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were tested prior to the emergence of troubling new variants in Britain and South Africa and elsewhere.

Still, as one infectious disease specialist observed, the J&J vaccine stands as another essential weapon in the battle against COVID-19.

Dr. Linda Nabha pointed to the most important achievement of the J&J single-shot vaccine: zero deaths in a three-continent trial with 45,000 participants.

“One shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects you from death, 100 percent of the time,” Nabha said. “And, it protects you from severe disease, 100 percent of the time 49 days after the shot. In my mind, that is extremely effective.”

Health officials note that having two vaccines is good but three’s better and could make a major difference in getting the pandemic under control.

“It could be a total game changer,” said Dr. Muriel Jean-Jacques, an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University. “We’ve never had to vaccinate our whole population at the same time before – not to mention the rest of the world – so having more vaccines will make that easier.”

New Jersey’s Neighbor New York Taking Advantage of J&J Vaccine

As for New Jersey’s neighboring state, New York has received 164,800 doses of the J&J vaccine and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the opening of a new vaccination site at Co-op City in the Bronx. The new location was added as part of the city’s ongoing effort to get more vaccine into the arms of New York City residents, particularly in hard-hit low income areas.

The mayor reported that the city has surpassed 2 million vaccinations – a pace that’s expected to pick up with greater availability of the third vaccine. He said he will take the J&J version when available, hoping to add credibility to the messages of medical experts who seek to derail the notion that it’s less effective than other vaccines.

More About the J&J Vaccine and Side Effects

The single-dose vaccine manufactured by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary called Janssen Biotech does not require ultra-cold storage conditions, as do the vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Instead, it can be kept in regular refrigerators. This should ease some distribution challenges, particularly in rural communities. In addition, the vaccine requires only a single dose, unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two shots three to four weeks apart. A single-dose vaccine could help boost the country’s rate of vaccination, and increasing the number of people vaccinated each week will be critical for containing new outbreaks, especially as more contagious variants of the coronavirus become more widespread.

Side effects that have been reported with the J&J vaccine include injection site reactions: pain, redness of the skin and swelling; and general side effects: headache, feeling very tired, muscle aches, nausea and fever. A remote chance remains that the J&J vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction – usually occurring within a few minutes to one hour after getting the single dose. For this reason, your health provider may ask you to stay at the place where you received your vaccine for monitoring after vaccination. Signs of a severe allergic reaction may include: difficulty breathing; swelling of the face and throat; a rapid heartbeat; a bad rash all over one’s body; and dizziness and weakness.

Other side effects remain possible with the J&J vaccine still being studied in clinical trials.

This is part of the reporting fellowship on racial disparities in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution conducted by the Center for Cooperative Media for ethnic and community media in New Jersey.

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