J&J Vaccine Rollout Slowed by Shifting State Strategies

Almost two weeks after being cleared by regulators, Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine is not yet providing a visible jolt to the U.S. immunization campaign.

Roughly 3.6 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been distributed since the shot received emergency authorization on Feb. 27. But only 440,000 have been put in people’s arms. In California, which received 440,000 doses across all providers in the state, only 2,200 shots have been administered, according to federal data.

The initial sluggishness mirrors the earliest days of the U.S. immunization drive when much of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. vaccines shipped in December were still unused in early January. In some places, J&J’s shots are just starting to arrive. In others, the doses -- which are stored more easily than the earlier vaccines -- are scheduled to be used throughout the month. And lagging data clouds the picture of exactly how quickly doses are being used.

States are more willing to delay using the J&J shot to set up new channels for distribution because it doesn’t need the same extreme-cold storage of other vaccines. This can mean new facilities, expanding hours at existing facilities or targeting specific workers, all of which require more time to start up.

”Since these are new vaccines to everyone, providers are recalibrating, finalizing protocols, and planning in many cases to use them in special settings such as mass clinics and mobile clinics,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare. “We expect use of the J&J vaccine to continue to increase as providers get their protocols worked out.”

Distributed doses include those delivered to jurisdictions such as states and territories, sites administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and entities including veteran’s health agencies and prisons. Overall, about 2.17 million doses of the three cleared vaccines are now being administered daily in the U.S, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

J&J’s single-shot formula promises to accelerate vaccinations even more -- eventually.

California’s supply of J&J shots arrived this week, meaning they likely ended up at clinics on Monday and Tuesday, a spokesman for the health department said in an email Wednesday. In Washington state, a majority of providers also didn’t receive their first J&J doses until this week.

“We are confident these numbers will increase in the coming days,” Shelby Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Health, said in an email.

‘Natural Lag’

There’s also a “natural lag” in federal data, according to Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health. Vaccines are typically administered seven to 10 days after they arrive in the state, according to Wendelken. That’s because they need to be redistributed and appointments need to be scheduled, he said in an email.

States aren’t expecting more doses of J&J’s vaccine until the end of the month, and some are stretching their initial supplies. About 13,000 of the 53,900 J&J shots Indiana received will be used at mass vaccination clinics over the next three weekends, said Megan Wade-Taxter, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Health.

In Georgia, the state will use its entire initial supply of J&J shots to immunize teachers throughout the month, Nancy Nydam, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health, said in an email Wednesday. Vaccinations started Monday and many of the larger clinics are scheduled for the coming weekends, she said.

Some states, though, are moving more quickly. Maryland is among the top states using its J&J doses, attributing its early success to ramping up operations at its mass vaccination sites, including the M&T Bank Stadium where the Baltimore Ravens play.

Shipments of J&J’s vaccine are expected to start ramping up later in March, with the drugmaker promising to deliver 100 million doses by the end of May. The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it would buy another 100 million shots. These are slated for the second half of the year, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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