Pending approval, Johnson & Johnson vaccine could help inoculate U.S. by summer

Public health officials welcome the imminent launch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, expected this weekend.

"I think it's really exciting that we have another choice," said Sonoma County Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase, "and another vaccine to add to our arsenal."

In a unanimous vote Friday, an FDA vaccine advisory panel recommended emergency use authorization be granted.

Full approval could come as early as Saturday, setting distribution in motion.

"Those doses don't require the storage that the Moderna and Pfizer doses require," said Governor Newsom, "and they're just a single dose."

Speaking in Fresno County at a vaccination clinic for agriculture workers, Newsom said he expects 383,000 doses of the new vaccine to arrive in California the first week in March.

"So now we'll have three and we'll see that new supply go north of 380 thousand, I'm very confident by the end of March we will see  significant increase," said Newsom.

"There is light- bright light- at the end of the tunnel."

Johnson & Johnson expects to ship 20 million doses in March and 80 million more by the end of June.

The combined 100 million, added to those promised by the other manufacturers, are enough to inoculate everyone in the U.S. by summer.

"I would take any vaccine that the FDA says is safe because I think we all need to do our part," said Ryan Lester, among those enjoying a mild Friday evening at Lake Merritt in Oakland.

Opinion on the new vaccine was generally positive, but with a few doubts.

"I've waited a year so I would rather wait for one that is more effective and makes me feel even more safe and comfortable," said Amy Gotliffe of Oakland.

While trials showed the two previous vaccines at about 95 percent efficacy, Johnson's protection is about 86 percent against the worst outcomes involving hospitalization.

But officials say the data should not discourage people from getting it.

"Against severe disease, it is extremely effective," said Dr. Urmila Shende, Sonoma County Vaccine Chief.

" I believe in the studies there were no deaths associated with those who were fully vaccinated."

Experts believe the Covid variants, which were not circulating early-on, blunted the success of the new entry.    

"It was later last year when this vaccine was studied compared to Moderna and Pfizer and that could have somehow contributed to the lower efficacy," said Mase. "We just don't know." 

Considering the risks of contracting Covid, many people embrace any protection, especially amid widespread vaccine shortages.

"I feel the more vaccines we have the better, the more people we can get to," said Jo-Elaine Morgan of Berkeley.

"I will take whatever vaccine they want to give me because I'd rather have a vaccine than not."