Local News

Wake spreading J&J vaccine doses among smaller providers

Posted March 1, 2021 5:24 a.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2021 11:27 a.m. EST

— More than 4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose coronavirus vaccine were on their way to hospitals across the country Monday, and more than 80,000 will arrive in North Carolina this week, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

The shots will be available to senior citizens, health care workers, educators and school staff immediately through the state's many vaccine clinics.

According to DHHS, Wake County Public Health will be allocated 5,500 doses of the vaccine, which requires only a single shot, as early as Wednesday.

“A third COVID-19 vaccine means North Carolina can get more people vaccinated sooner, which will save lives and slow the spread,” DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement.

The third vaccine means Wake County will get a total of 17,790 first doses this week, more than double the county's allotment last week, when only vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were shipped.

Instead of expanding eligibility to new groups, county officials said they plan to spread the extra doses among smaller providers who haven't yet had access to any vaccine, including physician offices and pharmacies.

The effort, dubbed #VaccinateWake, is a way to get more doses out into the community, said Ryan Jury, who heads up the county's vaccination effort. The county has more than 130 approved providers that could be giving shots, but because of limited vaccine supply, only 27 have been getting doses.

"Our intention here is to really jump start the community vaccine effort," Jury said.

After the initial shipment, the U.S. won't receive more vaccines until after the week of March 8, The New York Times reports, although Johnson & Johnson said it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the U.S. by the end of March and 100 million by summer.

In a Monday morning interview on the TODAY Show, Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Alex Gorsky said the company is working hard "to make sure we follow through on all those commitments."

"I can’t think of another time in history we’ve been able to ramp up at this pace," Gorsky said.

Vaccinations are currently underway in North Carolina for health care workers, senior citizens and education workers. State officials have said that other "essential" workers will be eligible for vaccinations beginning March 10.

Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at UNC Health, said he hopes a third vaccine will help supply start to catch up to vaccination demand.

"We have not had supply meet demand. We have not had enough vaccine to put into people’s arms basically since we started,” Wohl said.

“Obviously, the question is what shot is the best, and it’s really the one you can get because they all have shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths," Jury said.

Find county-by-county vaccine information

The Food and Drug Administration said the one-dose vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose was 85 percent protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness and 100 percent effect in preventing virus-related deaths, experts said, although clinical trials found the vaccine's overall efficacy was 72 percent.

"It works. We know it works. It works really well. It works better than most of the other vaccines we have out there for other diseases,” Wohl said.

Still, Wohl said, he recognizes that some people are hesitant to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both showed 90 percent-plus efficacy. That will factor into how UNC Health administers its doses, he said.

"What we are looking at are several different models, and one could be is [one] day is only J&J, and the people who come that day know they are getting J&J," Wohl said. “I don’t think we will have trouble having people take the J&J vaccine. It’s a one-and-done kind of deal. You get one shot. You don’t have to come back for the second, which is really convenient for a lot of people. The efficacy is really good.”

UNC Health is expecting to receive 4,100 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, and 3,600 of those doses will go to the area's largest vaccination clinic at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

Duke University Hospital did not release specific plans or a date for the arrival of the doses but said it will expand already-existing vaccine clinics.

The Harnett County Health Department will receive 1,000 doses the first week.

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