On February 27, 2021, the FDA approved emergency use authorization (EUA) for Johnson and Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, the third vaccine to receive EUA to fight the Coronavirus pandemic in the US. The availability of three different vaccines and the associated use of the Defense Production Act to have Merck also manufacture the J&J vaccine means there will be sufficient vaccine supply for all US adults by the end of May 2021. This is definitely very good news, bringing us all closer to the day when we can put our masks away, socialize and travel without the current Covid related restrictions.
As you probably know the first two vaccines receiving EUA in the US are very similar. Both the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines use mRNA to instruct the body to manufacture the spike protein of the Covid-19 virus. The J&J vaccine uses double-stranded DNA enclosed in an inactivated virus to deliver a genetic message to cells which also results in the production of spike protein and a resulting immune response. There were no severe (anaphylactic) reactions to the J&J vaccine. Because it is more stable, the J&J vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperature rather than frozen. This and the fact that it requires just one dose (unlike the two doses required for Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines) will speed up distribution and administration of the vaccine.
In clinical trials, the J&J vaccine reduced Covid-19 infection by 66.3% overall, but it reduced infection by 74.4% in the US. In South Africa the protection was less (52.0%) as the Covid virus variant there has a slightly different configuration of the spike protein. Most importantly, the J&J vaccine was 100% protective against hospitalization or death due to Covid-19.
So, which vaccine should you get? The short answer is, whichever one you are offered first. Any of the three approved vaccines will significantly protect you against Covid-19 infection, hospitalization, and death. Since there are no ‘head to head’ trials comparing these vaccines to one another they should all be considered effective.
The vaccination distribution process continues to be challenging, complex, and somewhat confusing. Currently in Maryland, vaccine providers include local health departments, hospitals, national pharmacy chains, local pharmacies, Kaiser, and state mass vaccination sites.
Physician offices such as BMA remain unable to obtain vaccinations to provide to our patients, and we are not aware of when that will change. BMA has taken all of the required steps to qualify as a Covid vaccination provider.
For Montgomery County residents in Priority Groups 1A, 1B, and 1C Tier 1, you may preregister for vaccinations given by the Montgomery County Health Department at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/Covid19/vaccine. Descriptions of the priority groups are on the website.
The State of Maryland distribution is open to those in Priority Groups 1A, 1B, and ALL of group 1C. Group 1C Tier 2 includes those from ages 16 (or 18, depending on the vaccine) to 64 with certain high-risk medical conditions (such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and chronic heart, lung or kidney disease) which increase the risk of a severe Covid illness.
All Maryland residents (including those in Montgomery County) may register for State-distributed vaccinations at the Maryland website www.covidvax.maryland.gov, which is linked to pharmacies, hospitals/clinic locations, and mass vaccination sites.
Additionally, vaccine providers such as pharmacies may have their own individual websites on which you can register directly.
The limited supply of Covid-19 vaccines has caused many of us to feel stressed and even anxious. As the vaccine supply improves over the next few months this will improve, and we can all look forward to hugging our loved ones, eating out at restaurants, and traveling again. Until then please stay Covid safe by practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in public, and practicing good hand hygiene.
Your partners in health,
Bethesda Medical Associates