America is getting yet another boost in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic this week as 3.9 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine are shipped out to states, tribes, territories, pharmacies and community health centers, said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator.
Michigan is expected to get 82,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokesperson for the state health department. The one-dose vaccine cleared its final federal regulatory hurdle Sunday, and was shown to be 66% effective in international trials but 72% effective in people ages 18 and older in the United States.
Promising, too, is evidence that the vaccine is 85% effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death starting 28 days after vaccination.
Adding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the arsenal of already approved COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech means Michigan will see its biggest shipment yet of COVID-19 vaccines in this first week of March — nearly half a million doses — at a time when demand far exceeds supply.
“It will begin arriving Wednesday and it’s being shipped to local health departments and hospitals,” Sutfin said. The state also expects to get deliveries of 212,940 doses of the Pfizer vaccine along with 196,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“The effectiveness shown from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in preventing severe illness and hospitalizations means this is a critical tool in ending this pandemic,” Sutfin said. “Michiganders should make the choice to receive any vaccine that becomes available to them. We will continue to expand availability of vaccines across the state.”
It comes as Michigan and the nation have seen a slight uptick in new daily COVID-19 cases in the last week. Statewide, the seven-day average in daily cases is up to 1,107, compared with 845 on Feb. 22, according to state data. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Michigan have plateaued since Feb. 19.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that she is “deeply concerned” about national data showing a roughly 2% increase in coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations in the last week.
“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said of the virus that has killed more than half a million Americans, of whom 15,534 were from Michigan. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
Michigan now has the second highest number of cases of the B.1.1.7 variant nationally, with 422 cases, Sutfin said. The majority of them are tied to an outbreak at Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility in Ionia.
“We continue to monitor the data when it comes to cases, case rates and hospitalizations,” Sutfin said. “We are concerned about the decrease we have seen in testing and continue to urge Michiganders to get tested for COVID-19, particularly if they have traveled or think they may have been exposed.
“We now have more than 400 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in our state and likely more. We know the variant is more contagious, which is why we urge everyone to continue doing the things we know that work: wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and avoiding crowds. We also urge everyone to make a plan to get the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine when it is their turn.”
A ray of hope
The Wayne County Public Health Department expects to get 7,100 of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine this week, in addition to 10,890 total first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Wayne County Executive Warren Evans.
In Oakland County, 6,700 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected to arrive Tuesday or Wednesday, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter. That’s in addition to 10,260 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in total coming this week.
“These Johnson & Johnson doses arriving this week are another ray of hope,” Coulter said in a statement. “Our challenge is supply that does not meet our demand, and a third effective vaccine helps. We look forward to getting more doses into arms of Oakland County residents so we can emerge from the heavy cloud of the pandemic.”
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel told the Free Press on Monday that 90% of Michigan’s supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be distributed to local health departments. He said local officials want to help continuing to vaccinate senior citizens living in congregate care settings, those getting food assistance through Meals on Wheels and people with a lack of access to transportation.
Because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose and doesn’t have to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do, it “gives a chance to take the product into the neighborhoods,” Hackel said. “That’s a huge advantage for us right now.”
Macomb County, he said, expects to get about 5,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week; he’s hopeful that the addition of a third vaccine to the supply chain won’t encourage state health officials to further expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines just yet.
“I’m hoping they let us catch up with 1A (priority group), congregate care, specific seniors (who) can’t get out,” he said, before opening up eligibility to more people.
The state Department of Health and Human Services “has provided prioritization guidance to all vaccine providers and has encouraged providers to prioritize individuals age 65 and older as this age group accounts for 80% of COVID deaths,” Sutfin said.
Eligible for shots in Michigan now are health care workers, people living in long-term care facilities, law enforcement officers, teachers, child care workers, agricultural workers, and people ages 65 and older.
Sutfin acknowledged, however, that some local health departments have added other groups of people to the priority list. The city of Detroit, for example, is now vaccinating any resident 60 and older and will also offer immunizations to anyone 55 and older — no matter where they live — who drives a Detroiter to a vaccine appointment. It’s part of the city’s Good Neighbor program.
“Local health departments have the option to prioritize the groups within the guidance they feel are most at risk and at highest need of vaccination,” Sutfin said. “No shot in the arm is ever wasted as getting this vaccine is our way out of the pandemic and returning to some sense of normalcy.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said Monday that he hopes people won’t try to shop for vaccines when it’s their turn to get a shot.
Just because Moderna’s vaccine was shown to be 94% effective in Phase 3 trials and Pfizer’s was shown to be about 95% effective doesn’t mean Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine isn’t a good one.
“What vaccine is better than the other vaccine? In order to be able to determine that, you would have to compare them head to head,” Fauci said Monday. “This was not done. We have three highly efficacious vaccines that also … have a very good safety profile.”
Fauci said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that people should take the type of COVID-19 vaccine that’s available.
“I would take it,” he said. “I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible. And if I would go to a place where they had J&J, I would have no hesitancy whatsoever to take it.”