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Boxes of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

Boxes of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine are shown at the McKesson Corporation in Shepherdsville, Ky., Monday, March 1, 2021.

Timothy D. Easley, Pool

Johnson & Johnson Shot To Boost Illinois And Chicago COVID-19 Vaccine Supply By About 50%

The number of COVID-19 vaccines shipped to Illinois and Chicago this week will increase by about 50% after a third vaccine got emergency authorization over the weekend.

Johnson & Johnson is allocating 105,400 doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine to Illinois and Chicago this week. The new shipments come as Pfizer also increases its weekly shipments to both jurisdictions by about 20,000 total doses. Moderna’s allocations this week are the same as last week.

Residents across Chicago and the rest of the state have struggled to find vaccine appointments and public health officials have blamed the limited supply from the federal government.

More appointments could open soon as boxes of the newly-authorized, single-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson start arriving at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

“We anticipate that it will be here, if not today, tomorrow,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a news conference about reopening elementary schools Monday. “It gives us obviously another tool to use to get people vaccinated.”

Of the 105,400 doses coming to Illinois from Johnson & Johnson, 22,300 doses will go directly to Chicago.

Dr. Shikha Jain, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Illinois and chief operating officer with the group IMPACT, called the new vaccine a “game changer.”

“I think it gets us one step closer to getting this pandemic under control and hopefully getting back to normal very soon,” Jain said. “The fact that we now have three vaccines a year into a pandemic with a novel virus is astronomical; it’s completely unheard of.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting Monday to discuss whether to issue guidance about which populations might be best served by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In addition offering immunity from the virus after only a single dose, it is also able to be stored in a regular refrigerator for three months or a standard freezer for up to two years.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently being administered require two shots, and must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

Dr. Shannon Rotolo, a clinical pharmacist at the University of Chicago, said the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has easier storage conditions will allow more small community pharmacies, clinics and doctors to administer vaccines.

“That’s hopefully going to increase the number of pharmacies – and the number of pharmacists – that are able to provide vaccine,” Rotolo said. It could also increase the pace of vaccination because providers won’t have to worry about scheduling two appointments or managing the supply of second doses.

“The fact that it’s a single dose also means that you don’t have to wait or feel confident about the supply before you start administering it,” Rotolo said.

Jain said a single-shot will be much easier for patients, too.

“A lot of people have trouble getting to the places where they need to get a shot,” she said. “They don’t have transportation, or they don’t know how to register… so by giving them the option for just one shot it decreases some of the barriers.”

Jain added that a single-dose shot will help speed up the time it takes to get enough people vaccinated to get closer to herd immunity and begin returning to normal. Currently, with the two-dose regimens required by Pfizer and Moderna, it takes about 5 to 6 weeks before a person has protective antibodies.

“With the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, they’re saying that the maximal benefit seems to be starting at about two weeks after that one shot,” Jain said.

After this week’s shipments arrive, Illinois and Chicago will have gotten enough doses to vaccinate 2.5 million people. The state’s population is 12.7 million.

As of Monday, about 1.9 million people have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That means more than 10 million Illinoisans are still waiting. But if this week’s vaccine shipments are sustained, that could mean Illinois would have enough doses to vaccinate all residents in the next seven months. That said, there are currently no authorized vaccines for children under the age of 16.

The Johnson & Johnson trial data also showed a reduction in asymptomatic cases, which indicates that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus unknowingly. It also showed good efficacy even in countries where more contagious variants are circulating.

Jain said that is very important to the overall vaccination effort.

“By getting these vaccines out there and stopping the spread of COVID in our communities, we’re preventing these mutations from continuing to spread and grow,” she said.

Becky Vevea covers COVID-19 vaccines and city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.

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