Louisiana could receive Johnson & Johnson vaccines ‘as soon as next week,’ Edwards says

Dr. David Obert receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination at University Medical Center of Southern Nevada on December 16, 2020, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Louisiana could receive COVID-19 vaccine doses made by Johnson & Johnson “as soon as next week,” Gov. John Bel Edwards announced during a press conference Thursday afternoon, an addition that could add up to 38,000 doses to next week’s vaccine distribution total.

“This is very, very exciting for us for a number of reasons,” Joe Kanter, the state’s chief medical officer, said at the press conference. Kanter said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “significantly easier to use because it only requires one dose — while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine both require two doses — and doesn’t have the same ultra cold storage requirements that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have.

“It’s going to be a lot easier to move this vaccine out into the field and do (vaccination) events with it,” Kanter said.

The state will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if the FDA grants it emergency use authorization this weekend, which Kanter said he anticipates the FDA will.

“Just like Pfizer and Moderna, it’s a very safe and highly efficacious vaccine,” Kanter said. Patients who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reported “zero deaths and zero hospitalizations” 28 days after getting the shot.

An FDA analysis of the vaccine released Wednesday found it provides strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19. It had a 72 percent overall efficacy rate in the U.S., and 64 percent in South Africa, where one of the highly contagious variants emerged.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have high efficacy rates. But Neil Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health said that the J&J vaccine has a higher efficacy rate when looking specifically at preventing severe COVID-19 infections, and the company’s trials showed it provided “complete” protection against hospitalizations and deaths due to the virus.

“If the goal is to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, there’s no difference” between the J&J vaccine and the ones from Pfizer and Moderna, Sehgal said. 

“This is an unconfirmed number — but … we’ve been told to anticipate about 37-38,0000 (Johnson & Johnson vaccine) doses in the first week,” Kanter said. “Which is a considerate number for us.”

Louisiana will receive 52,650 Pfizer doses and 45,000 Moderna doses next week as well, Kanter said, so even if the state doesn’t receive additional Johnson & Johnson doses next week, Louisiana will receive its largest weekly portion of vaccine doses yet.

Reporter Laura Olson contributed to this report