Lewis and Clark County Vaccine Planning Group Prepares for Arrival of Johnson and Johnson Vaccine

March 3, 2021

The Lewis and Clark COVID-19 Vaccine Planning Group is preparing for the anticipated arrival of the safe and effective Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in the state and county. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was granted Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2020, and the vaccine is the first approved single-dose vaccine in the United States.

The recent approval of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 brings the total number of approved vaccines in the United States to three, following FDA emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in December 2020. “We are extremely excited that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved, adding to our arsenal of effective and safe vaccines we have to fight this virus.” said Lewis and Clark Public Health Disease Control Administrator Eric Merchant. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, like the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, effectively helps prevent death and hospitalization from the COVID-19 virus. No participants in the Johnson & Johnson trial were hospitalized (28-days after vaccine) or died due to complications from COVID-19, and the vaccine was around 85 percent effective in reducing severe or critical disease. “As experts have shared, the best vaccine is the vaccine that is made available to you,” said St. Peter’s Health Clinical Pharmacy Manager Tom Richardson, PharmD, BCIDP. “Plus, time to immunity is decreased and there are reportedly fewer side effects with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, compared to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.”

The local Vaccine Planning Group, which is spearheaded by Lewis and Clark Public Health, PureView Health Center, St. Peter’s Health, Carroll College and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van Program, say that the vaccine will be easier to distribute. “This is a single-dose shot that doesn’t require ultra-cold storage. We already have the infrastructure in place thanks to partnerships, volunteers and planning, so we are ready to go if vaccine supply increases,” said Merchant. 

The other key differences between the newly approved Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are the type of vaccine and the known efficacy against the new variant strains of the virus. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are both mRNA vaccines, whereas the approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine is made with an inactivated virus associated with the common cold. Inactivated viruses used to create the vaccine cannot give you the disease, and is the same vaccine creation strategy used with the annual influenza vaccine, for example.  “Importantly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was undergoing clinical trials while new variants of the COVID-19 virus were spreading rapidly around the world,” said Richardson. “While we are seeing emerging evidence that the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are still quite effective against the new strains, we know that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine retains significant efficacy against many of the new strains, like the one that is dominant in South Africa and recently arrived in the United States.” The local planning group will be meeting regularly over the coming days and weeks to plan for distribution of the vaccine based on allocation as more information becomes available.