As the demand for coronavirus vaccines continues to outpace the supply, the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine came as encouraging and much needed news to cities and states across the US. But not, apparently, for Detroit.
The city’s longtime mayor, Democrat Mike Duggan, rejected a shipment of 6,200 J&J single-shot vaccines, claiming that Detroit’s demand was already being met and that the vaccine was not as good as those from Pfizer and Moderna.
During a news conference Thursday, Duggan said that while “Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine” the two from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were “best.”
“And I am going to do everything I can to make sure the residents of the City of Detroit get the best,” Duggan said.
The mayor also said “(t)he day may come in March or April when every single Moderna and Pfizer is committed, and we still have people who need a vaccine. And at that point we will set up a Johnson & Johnson center. I don’t see that in the next couple of weeks.”
Facts First: This is misleading. First off, only 15.4% of Michigan’s population has been vaccinated, and only qualified individuals are eligible to get vaccinated in Detroit — like those over 50 with a chronic condition. Additionally, the J&J vaccine proved just as effective as the other two in preventing hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.
The J&J vaccine has been found to be 72% effective in the US against moderate to severe infections from the virus, whereas both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been shown to be above 94% effective against symptomatic infections. The J&J vaccine is 85% effective at preventing severe Covid-19 disease. In all trials for the three vaccines no one who got the vaccine died from Covid-19 and no one was hospitalized once the vaccines took complete effect.
Experts have warned that comparing the percentages of effectiveness could be misleading. The trials were conducted at different times and the J&J vaccine was tested in South Africa after a more contagious new variant that also alters immune response to vaccine was widely circulating.
“(I)n order to really compare vaccines, you have to compare them head-to-head and these were not compared head-to-head,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Dana Bash Sunday.
The J&J vaccine also has the significant advantage of being only one shot, whereas the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two shots, with 21 to 28 days between each dose. Medical experts have continued to recommend that everyone take whichever vaccine is available.
“These are three highly efficacious vaccines,” Fauci told CNN.
“If I were not vaccinated now and I had a choice of getting a J&J vaccine now or waiting for another vaccine,” Fauci said, “I would take whatever vaccine would be available to me as quickly as possible for the simple reason of what I said a moment ago, we want to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and expeditiously as possible.”
When asked about Duggan’s comments, the White House senior adviser on Covid-19 Andy Slavitt told CNN “there was a misunderstanding” regarding the mayor’s remarks. “In fact, he is very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and I think we would reiterate the message that for all of us, the first vaccine we have the opportunity to take makes absolute sense to take.”
In a statement released Friday morning, the mayor said he has “full confidence that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is both safe and effective” and that he is “making plans now for Johnson & Johnson to be a key part of our expansion of vaccine centers and are looking forward to receiving Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the next allocation.”
John Roach, a spokesperson for the mayor, told CNN that “(w)hen the state expands vaccine eligibility to the point vaccine demand exceeds the Moderna/Pfizer capacity at (the TCF convention center), Detroit will open a second site offering J&J vaccines.”
In a second press release Friday the mayor claimed that the city was already “very close to our capacity at our current locations” with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available. “By the time the next J&J shipment arrives, we will have our plan in place to make it available,” the statement says.