Munson Doctors Discuss J&J Vaccine and Expanded Eligibility
"In northern Michigan we do expect to receive Johnson and Johnson vaccines as early as this week." - Dr. Nick Torney
As Johnson & Johnson prepares to ship its vaccine out to the states, it’s expected to arrive in northern Michigan later this week. Health officials with Munson Healthcare say it is good news for the region, and it comes as the list of who is eligible also expands this month.
Munson Infectious Disease Pharmacist Dr. Nick Torney says the hospital system is “extremely excited for this issuance from the FDA.”
Munson Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Christine Nefcy agrees. “Approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is very beneficial for northern Michigan as far as increasing access to vaccine.”
Dr. Torney is pleased with what he’s seen about the vaccine’s efficacy. “After 14 days after just one dose, (it) was noted to be 72% at preventing moderate to severe disease.” He adds, “This vaccine did show an excellent effectiveness preventing severe critical disease and death across multiple regions around the world.”
It’s a one dose vaccine – giving it a leg-up over the two shots in the arm, required by the other vaccines. And it can be stored at standard refrigerated temperatures. “They are studying it in a two-dose series however the results of that are not available at this time.”
J&J’s vaccine also presents healthcare workers with more flexibility. “This vaccine is stored up to three months at refrigerated temperatures. So it’s much easier to handle and much less of a logistic concern when it comes to getting patients back in for a second dose.”
Dr. Nefcy says, “It’s huge… there’s the logistics of storage which we’ve talked about quite a bit … but there’s also the logistics of managing one shot rather than two. And a specific time apart, and all of that kind of thing.” She says it will be much easier on scheduling vaccination appointments. The one-dose vaccine also has implications for reaching rural communities more easily.
The research and creation of this vaccine is different than Pfizer and Moderna – but has similar outcomes. Dr. Torney says, “Essentially the end result is the same as mRNA vaccines. It’s just a different methodology, a different strategy to create antibodies and an immune response.”
Side effects from this vaccine are similar to the others. “Some common side effects from this vaccine are similar to the other coronavirus vaccines that are available. We see a sore red arm in half the patients. Low-grade fever, fatigue, headache. Some muscle aches. Nausea. Just a general, not feeling well.”
Dr. Nefcy says, “What we know is statewide, nationally and globally there is not enough vaccine for everybody to get vaccinated, so my advice would be if you have the option for any of those vaccines you should get it. All of these vaccines are very, very effective at preventing serious disease… If it were my, my family, any option for any three of these vaccines, I would take it.”
Dr. Torney agrees. “When it’s your time to receive a vaccine when it’s available, really it’s important to get any vaccine that’s available … all three of them have been studied in large populations and, as I mentioned, have shown to reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death.”
Having a third vaccine option may help local health departments and hospital systems pick up the pace for vaccine clinics. Although it still depends entirely on supply. Dr. Nefcy says, “The more vaccine we get, whether it is choices, different manufacturers, the logistics of the supply chain … we just are hopeful we will get good supply of all three of the approved vaccines.”
The other unanswerable question – will any of the vaccines require a booster shot again next year? Dr. Torney says, “I think it’s too early to tell the frequency at which a booster would be needed, if it’s needed. We don’t know the durability or duration of the immune system’s response…. It’s likely we’ll need a booster (but) we’re going to need science to catch up a little bit.”
Meanwhile the eligibility for the vaccines expanded March 1st: now open to those over age 60 and certain food and agricultural workers. Dr. Nefcy says, “March 1st was the date for the new tiers expanding to Agriculture workers and food processing. A lot of that is still based on vaccine availability. The other piece was for more vulnerable patients 60 and up with other considerations.”
“We do hope that the state health department will expand tiers more liberally here in the future so we can give vaccine much more broadly.” But others in earlier tiers still qualify – just like those who are still waiting. Dr. Nefcy says, “As we expand those tiers, folks that were eligible early on – health care workers as an example, who chose not to get the vaccine or changed their mind, or circumstances changed and now they want it; are also still available.”
Meanwhile President Biden announced late Tuesday that the US will have enough vaccines for every adult American by May, moving up the national timeline by two months. Local healthcare officials in northern Michigan have said it may take all of 2021 to get everyone vaccinated.
For more on the Munson Healthcare weekly update, click here. The explanation of the J&J vaccine begins at the 9:00 mark.