Iowa will dedicate Johnson & Johnson vaccine to frontline workers working and living in congregate settings

Published: Mar. 1, 2021 at 7:17 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine was shipped on Monday across the county and the Iowa Department of Public Health already has a plan to dedicate those doses specifically to frontline workers working and living in congregate settings where they are unable to social distance.

In a call with health directors across the state, IDPH said it will dedicate more than 25,000 doses of the vaccine, which was authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration over the weekend, to those frontline workers who can’t social distance, like meatpackers. But, critics of the decision said those with the least health equity in Iowa will now receive a possibly less effective vaccine dose.

While the Johnson & Johnson version, like the others, prevents hospitalizations and deaths, it did not test as strong against moderate disease in trials. However, the vaccine was tested against variants of COVID-19. Both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines were not tested against variants.

Joe Henry, the political director for the League of United American Citizens in Iowa, said he had concerns that those workers, who are more likely to be a person of color, are getting a vaccine that doesn’t protect as well.

“When other essential workers are receiving the two other prior vaccines that were out there with the higher effectiveness rate and then the Johnson & Johnson is being given to people of color and those of us in the Latino community,” Henry said. “That would be unfair,”

Herny also called the policy racist because first responders and health care workers will still get the other two versions of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said it’s dedicating the doses to this group because the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine allows greater access for this population because it only needs one dose. Sarah Ekstrand, a spokesperson for IDPH, said it also allows them to address other barriers like language and transportation.

“Because of the less cumbersome storage logistics and the fact that J&J only requires one dose, this ensures greater access for this population to the COVID-19 vaccine,” Ekstrand said. “Additionally, by offering the vaccine to this priority population in their workplace, we are addressing access barriers of language and transportation, as well as solving for the fact that many of these individuals may not have a primary care provider.”

Ekstrand also said the department believed that anyone who is eligible to get a vaccine now, should, irrespective of the brand. All are highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was shown to prevent hospitalization and death 100% of the time in clinical trials and was 85% effective at preventing severe illness from the virus. Flu vaccines for example, generally have about a 60% efficacy rate year after year, but it’s still a critical tool in stopping the spread of those viruses.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told CNN on Sunday he would take a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He added that all three are very efficacious vaccines.

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