TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – A third vaccine in the fight against COVID-19 has been approved for emergency authorization by the FDA. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will soon be distributed to health departments across the United States, including Tennessee and Virginia.
Following the official authorization of the vaccine on Saturday, officials with the Virginia Department of Health announced they will begin offering the single-dose shot as soon as this week. According to a release, Virginia is expected to receive 69,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, with an additional allotment expected to be sent to pharmacies participating in a federal partnership to help vaccinate priority groups.
News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield spoke with officials who represent the Mount Rogers Health District who also oversee the LENOWISCO and Cumberland Plateau Health Districts, which combined, oversees 16 localities.
Dr. Karen Shelton, the medical director with the Mount Rogers Health District and interim director for Cumberland Plateau and LENOWISCO said these new doses will help expedite the vaccination process.
“It will help us to run through the phases faster. As we get through 1B and turn into 1C and other essential function groups, we’ll then turn to Phase 2 when anyone in the community who wants a vaccine will be able to find one and get one,” said Dr. Shelton.
Crossing state lines, News Channel 11 reached out to the Northeast Regional Health Office in Tennessee and directly to the Tennessee Department of Health regarding how many doses they expect to receive and when, and officials have not yet returned comment on the matter.
However, in a press conference last week, Commissioner of Health Dr. Lisa Piercey said they expected to receive as many as 40,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, once approved.
The Sullivan County Health Department and Ballad Health hospitals have been vaccinating people around the clock since doses became available. News Channel 11 asked how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would impact their vaccination operation and both said as of right now, it’s too soon to tell.
Both Sullivan County health officials and representatives with Ballad Health said they are both awaiting further guidance from the state regarding when they will get doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, along with how much they will get.
Independent pharmacies that have been vaccinating such as West Towne Pharmacy and Princeton Drug aren’t sure if they’ll even be getting the vaccine. Kristen Archibald, a pharmacist and the Director of Clinical Services at West Towne and Princeton Drug sent us this statement:
“As of right now, we’re not set up to get the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, and moving forward, we’re not sure if we will. Currently, our pharmacies are only distributing the Moderna vaccine. As a pharmacist, I’m comfortable with the Moderna because there is more guidance on it, whereas that guidance doesn’t exist yet for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”Kristen Archibald, Pharmacist/ Director of clinical services.
Becky Allsop, a Piney Flats resident who has already received her first dose of the vaccine said she feels the Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot is a good thing for the area. “When I was a young child, we did the Polio vaccine, Pneumonia vaccine, and Shingles vaccine. I’ll be 67 this year and all of those vaccines have been such a boom to our lives. I think we have some pretty smart scientists and I think it’s going to be fine,” she said.
While she already received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine, she said she would have gladly taken the Johnson & Johnson if it was available at the time of her vaccination. In fact, she said her 90-year-old mother has already been vaccinated, but a single-dose shot would have been a lot better for her.
Allsop believes it will help speed up the process of vaccinations as well as give people that sense of relief once they receive protection against the virus.
Dr. Shelton said they were offered the vaccine this week but chose not to take it since they already have a mass vaccination event planned for this weekend using the Pfizer vaccine. With 16-64-year-olds with underlying health conditions now able to get the vaccine, Pfizer is the only one approved for those ages 16 and 17, according to Shelton.
Dr. Shelton said they are planning more mass vaccination events in the coming weeks and people could be vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson as soon as next week. Overall, the prospect of having more vaccines is a good thing, said Dr. Shelton.
“It seems like last week the flood gates just opened as far as availability of vaccines so we’re very thrilled to have active planning going on as to how each of those vaccines will be available and it varies different places within our community,” she said.
While some may have concerns about a new single-dose shot, Dr. Shelton assures it’s safe and is anticipating the arrival of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses in Southwest Virginia.
“Ultimately, we know that COVID 19 can be a mild disease but what we really want to prevent is that severe disease, hospitalization, and death, and all three vaccines are very effective against that which is our ultimate goal,” she said.