The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being received with enthusiasm across the country but Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan allowed his share of 6,000 doses to go elsewhere this week, saying he can meet the needs of those eligible with alternative vaccines he views as better.
The city’s share of J&J doses was sent to other parts of Michigan with lower coverage rates among those 65 or older.
“Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure residents of the city of Detroit get the best,” said Mr. Duggan, a Democrat. “I believe we will have a Moderna and Pfizer vaccine for every Detroiter who wants one. The day may come when we have more Detroiters asking for vaccines than we have Moderna, Pfizer, in which case we’ll set up a Johnson & Johnson site.”
Michigan Health Department spokesman Bob Wheaton said some Detroit residents should be able to obtain a J&J vaccine from providers at sites that are not run by the city.
Still, the mayor’s comments clashed with a unified message from federal and state officials elsewhere. They say the one-shot J&J vaccine is a powerful tool that is just as good as the other vaccines in that it prevented all hospitalizations and deaths during trials.
“There are three approved vaccines from the FDA. They all are safe, they are effective, they prevent severe disease and death,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “Everyone in this country should take whatever vaccine they have access to.”
The J&J vaccine uses an adenovirus vector, basically an inactivated virus, as a vehicle for a gene that codes for the coronavirus, so the body mounts a response. It was 72% effective against all forms of disease in the U.S., versus 95% efficacy for the Pfizer and Moderna versions.
The latter vaccines use messenger RNA, or a snippet of genetic code that’s encapsulated in lipids and instructs the body to make impostors of the coronavirus’s spike protein, so the body knows how to fight the real thing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health has stressed that the J&J vaccine is 85% effective in preventing severe disease and matched the mRNA ones in preventing tragic outcomes from COVID-19.
The difference in efficacy is largely due to milder cases, and the J&J version was tested in more difficult circumstances than the others, going up against aggressive variants in South Africa and Brazil. It also requires just one shot instead of two; people have to return 21 or 28 days later for boosters from Pfizer or Moderna.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is stressing that people who still get infected under the J&J vaccine will probably feel something akin to a cold. He said a one-shot vaccine allows vaccinators to zip through populations without having to return to the site.
Also, the J&J vaccine can be stored in a normal refrigerator for up to three months instead of the deep-freeze temperatures required by mRNA versions.
“You’re crazy if you’re negative on this,” said Mr. DeSantis, a Republican. “I think the reception to J&J has been very positive so far.”
Florida’s allotment arrived late Thursday. Mr. DeSantis is planning a kickoff event in Polk County that will vaccinate law enforcement officers.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, received the J&J shot in public after her state’s shipment arrived this week. She had deferred taking the vaccine, while high-priority groups were immunized.
“I wanted to ensure Iowans that I believe it is a safe vaccine and not to be afraid to take it,” she said.
North Carolina Health Secretary Mandy Cohen tweeted a photo of herself getting stuck with the J&J version Friday.
“I got the J&J one shot vaccine today! Gratitude, joy, relief!” she wrote.
Officials are lobbying on the new vaccine’s behalf as the pace of the vaccination campaign ramps up.
The U.S. is averaging over 2 million shots per day. Over 16% of the nation has received at least one dose of vaccine, while over 8% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Despite progress, Biden officials warned that case counts, which had been plummeting, could stall around 60,000-70,000 per day, allowing another wave to form.
“It may seem tempting in the face of all of this progress to rush back to normalcy as if the virus is in the rearview mirror. It’s not,” Biden adviser Andy Slavitt said. “It’s better to spike the football once you’re safely in the end zone, not after you’ve made a couple of completions.”
They want states to keep COVID-19 restrictions, particularly mask mandates, in place, though states such as Texas and Mississippi are relaxing rules. Their governors say residents have the tools and know-how to make their own choices and keep businesses open.
The national rolling average of cases is down to 62,000 from a peak of 250,000 in early January.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insisted on caution Friday, saying the virus has surged a number of times.
“We are not there yet,” she said, “and we have seen this movie before.”