High hopes for Johnson & Johnson’s COVID vaccine have fizzled in US

The vaccine took another hit last week, when regulators told Johnson & Johnson that it should throw out tens of millions of additional doses produced at a plant in Baltimore because they might be contaminated.

Written by Noah Weiland

When Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine was authorized for emergency use in late February, ​it was seen as a breakthrough for reaching vulnerable and isolated Americans, a crucial alternative to vaccines that require two shots weeks apart and fussier storage. It was soon popular on college campuses, in door-to-door campaigns and with harder-to-reach communities that often struggle with access to health care.

But with only 11.8 million doses administered in the United States — less than 4% of the total — the “one and done” vaccine has fallen flat. States have warned for weeks that they may not find recipients for millions of doses that will soon expire, partly because the vaccine’s appeal dropped after it was linked to a rare but serious blood-clotting disorder and injections were paused for 10 days in April.

The vaccine took another hit last week, when regulators told Johnson & Johnson that it should throw out tens of millions of additional doses produced at a plant in Baltimore because they might be contaminated.

Health officials in a number of other states present a discouraging picture. The pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they said, effectively kicked it aside for good; only about 3.5 million doses have been used since the pause was lifted April 23.

State officials had initially hoped the Johnson & Johnson shot would be a workhorse: a versatile, easy-to-store tool they could stockpile at mass vaccination sites, quickly reaching thousands of people they would not need to track down for a second dose. But after demand dropped, their goals grew more modest.

Between the small number of doses distributed and the lack of interest in them, public health experts say, the United States missed a critical opportunity to address health disparities with a vaccine that should have been ideal for reaching vulnerable populations.

Dr. Chip Riggins, a regional medical director who oversees vaccine events in south central Louisiana, said that few organizers requested the shot anymore, even in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

“In the early days of J&J, working with the African American community and the churches, the faith community here, it was a very, very popular option,” Riggins said. “It pains me that it isn’t being accepted like it was before the pause.”

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