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A patient at ICHS receives the J&J vaccine. Photo courtesy of ICHS.

Vy Ha has been looking forward to getting back to a sense of normalcy like seeing her family and being back in the office. 

On March 9, Ha arrived for her COVID-19 vaccine appointment at International Community Health Services (ICHS) Shoreline Clinic. It was ICHS’s first day administering the recently authorized Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. 

The arrival of J&J vaccine means more vaccine supply. Its features have also been big news for health professionals, having to require only one-dose and having easier storage requirements. Clinical data on the J&J vaccine has brought questions as people have tried to compare vaccines to decide which is ‘best’ for them. 

Ha said she felt ‘neutral’ about which vaccine she received. After all, this was her opportunity to protect her family and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. “This is based on science,” says Ha, “So, I personally feel confident about it. I do a yearly flu shot every year, so I don’t have reservations.” 

The third option

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in WA has been expanding. As of March 9, over two million vaccine doses have been delivered in WA and we are now exceeding the DOH goal of 45,000 vaccinations a day. (DOH) 

Last summer, it seemed that an effective COVID-19 vaccine would be years away. But now, after the combined efforts of health professionals and tens of thousands of volunteers, the U.S. now has three highly effective vaccines to stop the spread of the disease: Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and Moderna.

The J&J vaccine is the most recent to be approved. The vaccine clinical trials were reviewed and approved by the Federal Drug Administration on February 27. Then the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup reviewed and authorized it on March 3. Of the 44,000 patients who joined the J&J vaccine trials, none of them were hospitalized from COVID-19. 

The positive clinical results pleased Lakshmi Deepa Yerram, MD, ICHS medical director.      “The J&J vaccine’s ability in preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Yerram said, “is comparable to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.” She described the third vaccine as adding more tools in the arsenal against fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Questions and cancellations

Paul Nguyen, ICHS Shoreline Clinic pharmacist supervisor, has been administering COVID-19 vaccines since January. He was the one administering vaccines on March 9 and spoke to patients who refused the J&J vaccine.

“One of the things that has come up,” shares Nguyen, “is patients’ hesitancy when it comes to efficacy rate compared to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.”

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear to offer better protection against COVID-19 when just looking at the data collected during U.S. clinical trials. The Johnson & Johnson reached a 72% effectiveness compared to the roughly 95% effectiveness of the other two. 

For some vaccine patients, these numbers infer that the J&J vaccine is inferior. Many had questions for Nguyen. Some patients cancelled their appointments. 

However, those effectiveness numbers do not tell the whole story. All the vaccines were tested differently and used different goal posts to determine effectiveness, making comparisons nearly impossible, Nguyen explained. The vaccines were also tested at different times in the pandemic. “It’s kind of comparing apples to oranges,” Nguyen said. 

All three vaccines are 100% effective in the way that matters most – preventing death, serious illness and hospitalization.

“I’ve been waiting for the J&J vaccine”

Kathleen Vasen, a retired health worker, was pleased to finally be vaccinated. “I’ve been waiting for the J&J vaccine,” Vasen explained, “One because it’s a one-shot vaccine and two, because of the way that it’s manufactured is the same as what is done for flu shots and so forth of which I’ve never had an issue.”

With a new family member expected next month, Vasen said having the one-dose J&J vaccine means she will be protected in “just the right amount of time” to be there to “see and hold my new grandson.” 

This one-shot vaccine is exciting for Yerram. However, she said that the best vaccine is the one that is available to you because all vaccines are extremely effective when it comes to preventing severe and fatal cases of COVID-19.

Health experts are concerned over the spread of new variants of COVID-19, being more infectious and potentially leading to another surge in cases. Getting “sufficient protection sooner” protects you and the people around you. “Please get the vaccine as soon as possible, and any brand that is available to you,” Yerram said.

To find out if you currently qualify to receive the vaccine, use the DOH PhaseFinder. It is available in multiple languages here: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19 

To learn more about COVID-19 vaccines and how to make an appointment please visit: https://www.ichs.com/covid-19-vaccine-update/    

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