116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The newly approved Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine that's now on the way to states including Iowa could protect millions more Americans from contracting the disease - if they can be assured the single-shot vaccine is worth getting as its overall efficacy appears lower than the two-dose ones already on the market.
The shot, which U.S. regulators authorized Saturday, is more convenient than the vaccines cleared last year by the Food and Drug Administration. Besides requiring just one shot, it can be stored for months in a common refrigerator.
Since the new vaccine presents fewer logistical hurdles, the four members of Iowa's U.S. House delegation wrote a letter Monday to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imploring the new vaccine be aimed at the state's harder-to-reach rural population.
'As Members of Congress representing a state with many rural residents, we understand the specific challenges our rural communities face in looking to vaccinate residents efficiently and equitably,” states the letter from Republicans Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra and Democrat Cindy Axne.
'Prioritizing distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to rural areas would: reduce the burden on rural health care providers and county health officials; simplify the distribution and administration process; and, ensure equitable vaccine access for rural Americans,” they wrote.
At the same time, the federal government is being urged to target college-age adults with the new vaccine - for the same reasons.
Jonathan Brand, president of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, told a CDC advisory panel that the single-shot vaccine should be used to inoculate the 53 million Americans between 18 and 29. They make up some of the biggest spreaders of the virus because they live in crowded living quarters, such as residence halls and apartments, and many work in retail, leisure and hospitality industries with higher risks of exposure, Brand told the panel.
He noted that many of these young people will be on the move in May and June when school is out and won't easily return for a second shot.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine 'could jump-start a second front against COVID,” Brand said, adding that colleges and universities could play a leading role in aiding such an effort. 'We have the gyms, the arenas, the field houses, the parking lots.”
The state announced Monday that 25,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are headed to 17 counties in Iowa, including Linn.
Yet the ease of distributing that vaccine will need to be balanced with the risk of creating the perception that the one shot is an inferior option.
A February survey found only 7 percent of people wanted a single-dose vaccine, compared with 58 percent who said they prefer two doses, according to a presentation Sunday to the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. About 1 in 5 said they would get either.
But the survey was conducted before all of the data on Johnson & Johnson's vaccine became available, which could affect attitudes.
Complicating matters more, Johnson & Johnson said it was testing a two-shot version, suggesting it thinks adding a second shot could improve protection.
The current Johnson & Johnson vaccine proved safe and effective in a clinical trial, completely preventing hospitalization and death, including in South Africa against a more transmissible variant.
However, when moderate cases were included, it was less protective than the vaccine jointly developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech and one from U.S. biotech company Moderna.
Yet it's impossible to compare results directly.
Johnson and Johnson conducted the largest coronavirus vaccine trial to date, including at dozens of sites in South Africa and Brazil, pitting its vaccine against mutant strains that the earlier vaccines weren't tested against.
'This is not the time to be quibbling over decimal places or the levels of efficacy that we're seeing,” said Michelle Williams, an epidemiologist and dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her message: Vaccines are a public health tool meant to keep people from getting sick, becoming hospitalized and overwhelming the health care system - and that's what the new vaccine does.
Simplicity in messaging is essential, said Glen Nowak, director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at the University of Georgia. Officials should stick to the main talking point: All three vaccines protect people against strains of the virus currently circulating and causing illness and death in the United States.
The Biden administration already is trying to boost confidence in the new vaccine.
'The vaccine that's available to you - get that vaccine,” Anthony Fauci, the U.S.'s top infectious-disease official, said during a briefing.
Bloomberg, the Washington Post and Tom Barton of the Quad City Times contributed to this report.