Mass. will start getting limited Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Deliveries of one-dose shot expected to ramp up at end of March

MASSACHUSETTS WILL BEGIN getting a small supply of one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines next week, but is unlikely to get a significant shipment of the shots until the end of the month, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday.

Over the weekend, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson shot the third type of inoculation approved for emergency use to prevent COVID-19. Baker has previously hailed the shot as a potential game-changer for getting the vaccine distributed quickly in Massachusetts.

Unlike the two vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson shot is a single dose rather than two doses, and it does not have to be stored in an ultra-cold freezer, simplifying distribution. The Johnson & Johnson shot appears to be less effective than the other two in preventing illness, with 66 percent efficacy in preventing moderate to severe COVID, but it is still 85 percent effective in preventing severe and critical illness and 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

Baker repeatedly reiterated a comment made by Dr. Anthony Fauci over the weekend urging residents to take whatever vaccine is available to them when they become eligible. “His basic message was all the vaccines are effective. All the vaccines work. Take whichever one you have an opportunity to take when you’re eligible and it’s your turn,” Baker said. “It’s an important message that needs to be repeated over and over.”

Baker held a press conference Monday after touring a vaccination site run by Boston Medical Center and Mattapan Community Health Clinic at Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. The governor said he had been informed by the federal government that Massachusetts is likely to get a small shipment next week of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – likely in the “thousands” of doses. But for another few weeks, little of that vaccine will be available as Johnson & Johnson ramps up its production. Baker said it will likely be toward the end of March before doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are more widely available.

“The information on the J&J vaccine at this point in terms of volume is a little up in the air,” Baker said.

The Associated Press has reported that Johnson & Johnson expects to ship 16 million doses by the end of March and 100 million by the end of the June.

Without an assurance of when the supply will actually ramp up, Baker implied that the state had not yet mapped out exactly how it will deploy each of the three vaccines. For now, Baker said, “That shipment will probably be distributed pretty evenly across the vaccinating community we have in Massachusetts,” including mass vaccination sites, regional sites, health care providers, as well as pharmacies, which get supplies directly from the federal government.

Baker noted that because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not have to be deep frozen, then thawed, with the exact number of doses given in a particular time frame, it can be used in new ways. For example, it could be used for mobile vaccination sites. “I think one of the things you’ll see with Johnson & Johnson is the ability to do certain kinds of things that are hard to do now using vaccines that come with a lot more criteria around how you can use them,” Baker said.

Baker said he expects there will be more information by the end of March on how much of each vaccine will be available each month through July. “That will tell us a lot about how to think about distribution,” Baker said.

Baker went to the Mattapan vaccination site to emphasize the priority his administration has placed on vaccinating communities of color. Advocates for communities of color have complained that while those communities have been more heavily burdened by COVID-19, they have also received a lower share of COVID vaccines so far. The governor said government has heard the voices of communities of color, and has targeted outreach in 20 hard-hit communities. Baker said he also recognizes the importance of addressing vaccine hesitancy “born of generations of systemic racism and disproportionate access to quality health care in black and brown communities.”

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

State Rep. Russell Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat, said the debate has often centered on whether to vaccinate the largest number of people – such as through mass vaccination sites – or focus on equity. “We can actually do both,” Holmes said. Guale Valdez, CEO of the Mattapan Community Health Center, said the health center is offering transportation to anyone who needs a ride to get vaccinated and translation services.

Baker has also faced criticism for rolling back some pandemic-related restrictions, effective Monday. The new rules loosen restrictions on capacity for restaurants and indoor performance spaces. Baker said the decision was based on the fact that 1.2 million people have gotten at least their first shot of a vaccine, and case counts and hospitalizations have declined over the past two months.

“All of those decisions since the very beginning have been difficult, and they constantly get reconsidered and reevaluated and redebated as data comes in every couple of weeks by our administration and some of the outside experts we talk to,” Baker said.