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Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Idaho this week — but it’ll be rare for now

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BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho state officials said they will receive 13,300 Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccines by Thursday. It’s a vaccine easier to distribute and — among those approved in the U.S. — so far appears to be most effective against the COVID-19 variants.

Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho state epidemiologist, said in a virtual press conference Tuesday that the Johnson & Johnson option, also known as the Janssen vaccine, will significantly help with some of the logistical issues around distributing two-shot vaccines. She said the hope is to get the new vaccine out into smaller mobile clinics and areas of the state that were difficult to reach.

People who had severe allergic reactions after the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine will also be eligible to take the Johnson & Johnson dose, Hahn said.

“There’s a lot of excitement now that we have a one-dose vaccine,” Hahn said. “I think this will help a lot and hopefully impact the waiting lists that we know are still out there in some of the health districts.”

Niki Forbing-Orr, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said officials don’t currently have additional information about how people can request a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They’re advising the state’s residents to get any COVID-19 vaccine that’s available to them.

USDA CLEARS PATH FOR JOHNSON & JOHNSON ROLLOUT

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Johnson & Johnson doses on adults Monday, making the vaccine the third to be approved in the country. Americans could receive the shot as early as next week.

Johnson & Johnson has promised to provide the U.S. with 100 million doses by the end of June. That adds to the pool of 600 million doses from two-shot vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna by the end of July — enough to vaccinate anyone in the U.S. who wants one.

“The authorization of this vaccine expands the availability of vaccines, the best medical prevention method for COVID-19, to help us in the fight against this pandemic,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement.

The U.S. has tallied more than half a million COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 1,900 have died of COVID-19 in Idaho, according to the state.

COVID-19 VARIANTS IN IDAHO

An FDA analysis found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be 72% effective against COVID-19, 86% against severe disease. Another trial showed it was 82% effective against severe disease from the strain in South Africa, where a more infectious COVID-19 variant is more common. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are likely less effective, Hahn said.

Idaho officials have confirmed cases of two of the more contagious COVID-19 variants, which are mutated versions of the coronavirus that were discovered in the United Kingdom and South Africa last week. Evidence shows those variants spread more quickly and could cause an uptick in infections and hospitalizations.

Central District Health — which includes Ada, Valley, Boise and Elmore counties — will receive the largest batch of 3,700 Johnson & Johnson doses, which are directly shipped to the vaccine providers.

No new doses of Johnson & Johnson will be received next week, said Dave Jeppesen, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director. That puts Idaho back to receiving about 40,000 total first doses a week between Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Jeppesen said state officials expect to receive about 55,000 vaccine doses a week by the end of March. That number would include Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

“We’re still in this race to get vaccinated before particularly these new variants catch hold here in Idaho,” Jeppesen said.

In an AARP virtual town hall Tuesday, Gov. Brad Little said officials don’t know whether residents would need to get vaccinated again in the future. But he encouraged Idaho residents to continue to get vaccinated when they can.

“Just get the vaccine,” Little said. “That’s the most important thing. “

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