Single-dose COVID-19 vaccine rolling out in Virginia

A Richmonder receives a COVID-19 vaccine from the Virginia Department of Health at the Arthur Ashe Junior Athletic Center. Photo by Enza Marcy

Anya Sczerzenie, Staff Writer

Virginians can now receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine following the shot’s approval for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 27. 

The commonwealth will “be in a very different place in terms of supply” this month because of the new vaccine, said Dr. Danny Avula, the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments director during a press event on March 3. He praised the vaccine and stated large-scale vaccination events will begin statewide. 

The Virginia Department of Health released a statement Feb. 27, stating that it would begin administering the shot the following week. The commonwealth expects to receive an initial 69,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to a Virginia Department of Health release

An additional allotment of vaccines will be set aside for specific pharmacies that are participating in a federal partnership and vaccinating priority groups, such as people 65 years old and older, for no cost. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, meaning it only takes one appointment to get fully vaccinated, and more doses can vaccinate more people. The trade-off, however, is a difference in efficacy. 

In clinical trials, the vaccine has shown to be around 66% effective overall in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 illness. The clinical trial conducted in the U.S. showed 72% efficacy in preventing moderate to severe illness, while trials in Latin America and South Africa showed 66% and 57% efficacy respectively, according to a Jan. 29 press release from Johnson & Johnson.

The Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines are both around 95% effective. These two vaccines were approved by the FDA for emergency use on Dec. 11 and Dec. 18, respectively.

Richmonders eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine wait in the Arthur Ashe Junior Athletic Center. Photo by Enza Marcy

Both vaccines utilize mRNA technology to create immune responses from proteins, which create antibodies that protect against the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Dr. Michael Stevens, associate chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the VCU School of Medicine described mRNA as a code that is delivered to cells upon vaccination. 

“The code serves as an instruction manual for your immune system, teaching it to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19 and attack it, should it encounter the real thing,” Stevens stated.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine utilizes a disabled adenovirus, which also “delivers instructions on how to defeat the coronavirus,” Stevens said.

In contrast to the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, the flu vaccine — which many Americans get every year — was only 45% effective in preventing acute respiratory illness caused by the flu in 2019-2020, according to the CDC. 

The Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines can be stored at higher temperatures than the Pfizer vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine requires an ultra-cold freezer of -112 to -76 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines require normal cold storage. The Moderna vaccine must be stored at -13 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is stored at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This milestone follows a year of incredible work by our dedicated teams and unprecedented collaboration with health leaders around the world — all of whom shared a goal of bringing a single-shot vaccine to the public,” Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky stated in a release. 

Some VCU students, including sophomore information systems major Sammy Shaikh, said they would rather get one of the two-dose vaccines compared to a single-dose option.

Shaikh said his parents and sister, who work in the medical field, have already taken two-dose vaccines.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to taking [the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,] obviously if it’s been in trials for a long time, but I think I’d rather wait for the other ones,” Shaikh said. 

The press release announcing the vaccine’s approval states that some people who take it may experience side effects. These include fever, headaches, muscle aches, pain and redness at the injection site, and fatigue. 

Public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, say that the vaccine is valuable despite its lower efficacy because of the ease of distribution. During a White House press briefing on Jan. 29, Fauci called it a “value-added additional vaccine candidate.”

Jae Berin, a freshman chemical engineering major, said she hopes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available for first responders who might not have access to the other vaccines.

“I just want to make sure that the people who aren’t able to get anything else, that’s available for them as an option,” Berin said. “But if offered, I would probably do it if I had nothing else.”

Managing Editor Iman Mekonen contributed to this report.

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