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State officials excited about possible third vaccine option

CHARLESTON – West Virginia officials in charge of COVID-19 response and the state’s successful vaccination effort were pleased to hear about the possibility of a third vaccine option on the horizon.

Johnson and Johnson announced Thursday that its Janssen Biotech pharmaceutical division submitted an emergency use authorization to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

“Today’s submission for Emergency Use Authorization of our investigational single-shot COVID-19 vaccine is a pivotal step toward reducing the burden of disease for people globally and putting an end to the pandemic,” said Dr. Paul Stoffels, vice chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer at Johnson and Johnson, in a statement Thursday.

In clinical trial, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine showed a 66 percent effective rate for preventing the worst of COVID-19 symptoms during international trials, while U.S. trials showed a 72 percent effective rate.

“We are very optimistic about the results, from what we understand, of that clinical trial,” Dr. Clay Marsh, state coronavirus czar, said Friday during Gov. Jim Justice’s coronavirus briefing. “I’m particularly optimistic about the benefits of the Johnson and Johnson product, just like the Moderna and Pfizer products, of being able to protect people with severe disease, meaning hospitalization and death. That is really important.”

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only one shot, unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines which require two doses spread out between 21 days and 28 days respectively. The Johnson and Johnson dose also doesn’t require the extreme cold temperatures that make both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines difficult to distribute.

The federal government already purchased 100 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine through the prior administration’s Operation: Warp Speed, which the company expects to have ready by the middle of 2021. The FDA scheduled a meeting of its outside advisory panel for Friday, Feb. 26, to review the vaccine data and could recommend use by the end of the month.

“Upon authorization of our investigational COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, we are ready to begin shipping,” Stoffels said. “With our submission to the FDA and our ongoing reviews with other health authorities around the world, we are working with great urgency to make our investigational vaccine available to the public as quickly as possible.”

James Hoyer, the leader of West Virginia’s joint interagency vaccine task force, said that it is unclear when and how many Johnson and Johnson vaccines the state will receive once approval is granted, but state and local health officials would love to have as many doses as possible.

“We do not have any indication based on what we know at this point how many J and J shots we would get,” Hoyer said. “It all depends on their production ability.”

Earlier this week, federal coronavirus officials with the administration of President Joe Biden said that West Virginia and other states would receive a 20 percent increase in doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines starting next week. The boost would mean an additional 2,500 to 3,000 doses on top of the approximately 23,000 doses the state receives weekly.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, nearly 5 percent of the state’s 1.79 million residents have been fully vaccinated with both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as of Friday.

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