BRATTLEBORO — Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine will soon join the other two making their way into arms across the state.
“We are one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us and building back stronger than before,” Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement following the federal Food and Drug Administration granting emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 27.
“With a new vaccine coming online, we will be able to scale up our efforts, speed up our timeframes and broaden our eligibility faster.”
Dr. Kat McGraw, chief medical officer at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, said her group hasn’t received any information yet on the state’s plan for distributing the J&J vaccine. Officials at BMH and Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, which both offer vaccination clinics, anticipate details might be shared today at the governor’s news conference.
While the J&J vaccine has an efficacy rate of 72 percent compared to 95 percent after two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, McGraw said they were in clinical trials at different times “so it’s not really apples to apples in terms of the environment for comparing it.”
She noted how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were tested much earlier, and J&J’s vaccine was tested when there were mutations of the virus, making it unknown how Pfizer and Moderna would test in today’s environment.
Another thing McGraw pointed out involves definitions used in the clinical trials.
The J&J vaccine is effective in fighting moderate and severe disease “but moderate disease is actually very similar to mild disease in the Pfizer and Moderna trials,” she said.
“So given the lack of an exact crosswalk to be able to compare it,” she said, “we can say that they are comparable and roughly the same.”
Patients don’t need to be vying for one vaccine over another, McGraw said. The J&J vaccine was tested to be 100 percent effective against hospitalizations and death, which she called “astonishing and fabulous.”
“That’s what we’re really trying to vaccinate against,” she said.
The state has prioritized people in age groups who died from COVID-19 in Vermont, starting with vaccinations for those who are 80 and older then moving through 75 and older.
“Then the risk of dying progressively declines between 65 and 70, then it’s lower from there,” McGraw said before explaining how the latest age band registering for vaccines next week — 55 and older — also includes those with high-risk medical conditions. “Beyond that, the state has not really made clear how they’re going to be doing prioritization.”
School staff, teachers and first responders are anticipated to be vaccinated within the next phases.