The one-shot, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was granted emergency use authorization Saturday by the Food and Drug Administration. The good news is that we now have a third vaccine in our arsenal of tools against the virus.
However, according to The Washington Post, many governors are worried that the drug, which requires neither the same cold storage challenges as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines nor a boosted shot, may be directed to segments of the population that are less privileged. And that can illuminate the racial and ethnic disparities we have seen during the pandemic even more brightly.
Lack of health services and transportation have impeded the administration of the vaccines to communities of color. Of the 13 million people who received the COVID-19 vaccine in the first few months of distribution, only 5% were Black.
Experts warn that this “two-tiered” system of vaccine rollout may be exacerbated by choosing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as the preferred drug for ethnic or rural communities. While the one-shot vaccine has been shown to efficiently reduce overall hospitalization and death from COVID-19, its efficacy in preventing infections is only 66%, compared to 95% for the Moderna and Pfizer jabs.
According to the Post, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Massachusetts Republican and former health insurance executive, said that officials should clearly communicate the benefits of the one-shot vaccine so that minority groups would not feel they were receiving an inferior product.
Other state governors also expressed concern that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may not only increase vaccine hesitancy in these communities but also “brand hesitancy as well.” This has been already demonstrated in Germany where some residents have refused the AstraZeneca vaccine in favor of the Pfizer-BioNTech based on different levels of protection, according to the Post.
The Biden administration has promised that “all vaccines will reach all communities,” according to Marcella Nunez-Smith, who heads this administration’s task force on health equity.
Officials say that keeping that promise is critical.
“If we land up with a hierarchy that says all rich white people get Pfizer, and all poor Black people get J&J, that would be a problem,” said Helene D. Gayle, a physician who is the CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s leading community foundations.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to store and appointments are easier to schedule making it the logical choice for communities without adequate healthcare facilities, including people in correctional facilities.
According to the Post, people of color are largely represented in these populations. This could lead to accusations of racism if the one-shot vaccine is the only one made available.
And experts are concerned that people may decide to get vaccinated based on the product offered, which would slow down the vaccination process.
“Certainly, at this stage, each location that provides vaccines will have only one kind of vaccine,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, told Inverse.
According to Bustle, Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., head of the National Institutes of Health, added that choosing a vaccine isn’t possible right now because there are not enough doses available.
“People who are offered one should feel quite happy about that,” he said.
“The vaccine that’s available to you, get that vaccine,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on the eve of the Johnson & Johnson authorization, according to the Post.
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