UAB Officials Hopeful Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Could Accelerate Rollout

Photo by Shalina Chatlani, NPR’s Gulf States Newsroom.

Medical experts at UAB say the vaccine rollout is picking up pace and are welcoming of the newly-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, though it is unclear how the vaccine’s arrival will affect the state’s total supply.

Alabama will receive 40,100 doses of the vaccine this week, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will go through the agency’s normal allocation process of identifying providers that are next in line to receive vaccine. The new Johnson & Johnson shipment will increase the average weekly allocation of first doses received in Alabama, but officials caution it could be a short-lived boost.

“It will be a one-time allotment, and we do not know when the state will receive additional Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” an email briefing from the state public health department read on Monday.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the new vaccine for emergency use over the weekend. In a press conference Monday, a UAB health expert said the new vaccine could be a “game-changer.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot. The vaccine also can be stored in a regular refrigerator. That means the vaccine could be much easier to distribute than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two shots and require colder storage.

“We need as many vaccines as possible from as many different manufacturers as possible,” said Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at UAB. “And the reason for that is we need to make vaccine supply readily available, not just for the United States, but for the entire world … we’re not going to get this under control until we vaccinate the entire world.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about 66% effective in preventing severe illness from the coronavirus. While that’s lower than that of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are more than 90% effective, Goepfert said Johnson & Johnson is still very successful at keeping people from developing a moderate to severe case of coronavirus.

“The efficacy of this vaccine to protect against severe disease actually continues to increase,” Goepfert said.

Goepfert added that Johnson & Johnson is conducting a study to see whether it will require recipients to get two doses instead of just one. The company has said it plans to deliver one hundred million doses by the end of June and can start supplying doses as early as this week.

However, the New York Times reported Monday senior officials in the Biden Administration have said the supply of vaccines will likely continue to be quite uneven from week to week for the next month.

On a press call last week, Alabama Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said Alabama has administered more than 800,000 doses so far, about half of the 1.5 million residents that are currently eligible. Harris said the state expects to see close to 100,000 doses for its next weekly allotment from the federal government.

Officials at the Alabama Department of Health say they aren’t sure when or how much of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is coming to the state but are optimistic about the new vaccine being added to its supply.

State health officials have said they don’t expect to receive large quantities of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until early summer.  Harris has encouraged residents to get any vaccine they are offered, regardless of their respective efficacy rates.

Editor’s Note: UAB holds WBHM’s broadcast license, but our news and business departments operate independently.