ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Following its federal emergency approval, the Baltimore-made Johnson and Johnson vaccine is rolling out across the country.
49,600 doses reserved for Maryland will be delivered this week, but the state's acting health commissioner Dennis Schrader told lawmakers Monday to expect fewer doses in the coming weeks.
"This is an initial allocation. It is very likely we will receive less next week for a couple of weeks. What J&J has basically said they are pushing out everything that they have. There will be uneven distribution for the next couple of weeks and then it will start to rise again towards the end of March," Schrader said.
He spoke before members of the General Assembly who are in charge of vaccine oversight.
Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is 85% effective against severe illness and is the first single-dose vaccine.
It can be refrigerated at normal temperatures for up to three months.
In trials, it was 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
Johnson & Johnson expects to deliver more than 20 million doses by the end of March, and 100 million by the end of June.
J&J CEO Alex Gorsky said of the single-dose vaccine, "That's 100 million people by the end of June can have one shot and be done. And so, we think that the convenience, the ease of logistics that's going to represent is significant, not only for our country but for people around the world."
So far, according to the CDC, only 7.5% of Americans have received both doses of the other approved vaccines, by Pfizer and Moderna.
"Knowing that we've got a safe and effective single-shot option that doesn't require extensive refrigeration should help that distribution, that kind of bottleneck that we've been seeing – significantly – in the coming weeks and months," said Gorsky. "The fact that we got the thumbs-up from the FDA and the CDC is just going to have such an important impact for patients and health care systems around the world."
One issue with Johnson & Johnson is supply, which is ramping up.
The vaccine is manufactured by Emergent BioSolutions in Bayview. The raw doses are sent elsewhere to be placed into vials then they go to vaccination sites.
"We're doing the very best we can to get as much safe and effective product out of the manufacturing process as possible," Emergent Executive Vice President Sean Kirk told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren.
And while overall effectiveness is about 20% less than the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it was tested on more contagious variants now circulating in Maryland—and proven effective.
Experts say you should not hesitate to get Johnson & Johnson.
"If you have access to any of the vaccines that have been approved, get the vaccine," said Dr. Jason Marx with UMMS. "The Johnson & Johnson saves lives and prevents hospitalizations, and that is the most important thing."
At a General Assembly oversight hearing on the vaccine, Senator Mary Washington criticized Governor Larry Hogan's comments last week that Baltimore was getting more vaccine than the city is "entitled to."
Mayor Brandon Scott has asked that the state's mass vaccination sites in Baltimore reserve doses for city residents, and the state announced Monday it would prioritize appointments at the Baltimore Convention Center for some Baltimore zip codes that represent underserved populations.
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