Every Oregon county will receive 100 doses this week of the new Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine that President Joe Biden said Tuesday is a key part of vaccinating all Americans before summer.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.
Biden likened the effort to ramp up production of vaccine to efforts by manufacturers to join together during World War II.
The key to cutting the timeline for inoculating the public is the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine. Biden announced a deal with pharmaceutical giant Merck to commit two of its manufacturing facilities to making the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Biden said he will invoke the Defense Production Act to help ready Merck's facilities and to ensure it gets the raw ingredients required for making the vaccine.
Along with increased orders of the previously approved two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, enough doses will be available to suppress the virus, which has killed over 515,000 Americans over the past year, including more than 2,200 in Oregon.
Scientists with the Centers for Disease Control have said that suppressing the virus as quickly as possible will limit the continued mutations of COVID-19, some of which have proven to be more contagious and virulent than the original virus. Variants first found in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil have arrived in the United States. The United Kingdom variant is forecast to make up the majority of new infections by the end of the month.
In early February, the timelines for inoculating all American adults was as long as early 2022 in some estimates. Recently, the increase in Moderna and Pfizer vaccines shortened estimates to the end of summer. Now it's likely by Memorial Day.
Oregon will receive 34,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Every county will initially receive 100 doses to familiarize health officials with the vaccine, the first new vaccine since December.
"Because doses will be limited for the first few weeks, the state has committed some allocations to addressing access issues for some Oregonians who’ve experienced barriers to getting vaccinated," said Jonathan M. Modie, lead communications officer for OHA's public health division.
About 4,800 doses will go to Local Public Health Authorities (LPHAs) to vaccinate Oregonians living in adult foster homes and other in-home senior populations.
Walmart and Bi-Mart, two new partners in the state's pharmacy vaccinations program, will also receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccines. Additional doses will go to some unspecified health systems in the state.
The new vaccine has pros and cons compared to the two-shot vaccine from Moderna and Pfizer that is currently being used.
Its statistical drawbacks have drawn the most attention. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown an efficacy of about 72-80% in tests. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have an efficacy of more than 95%.
CDC officials have said that even if there is a slightly higher chance of getting infected with COVID-19 with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it is strong enough to prevent severe illness and death.
On the positive side, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot.
That makes it a boon for inoculating parts of the population that are difficult to reach for second doses or those who might not return for the booster of Moderna or Pfizer.
Because it only needs standard commercial level refrigeration, it can be transported to areas farther away in rural or mountainous areas. The Pfizer and Moderna doses have to be kept in ultra-cold freezers, then thawed before administered.
The White House on Tuesday told states to plan on administering 16 million to 17 million total weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17 million to 18 million weekly by early April.
More is on the way. States receiving 14.5 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine now will receive 15.2 million doses next week.
Johnson & Johnson says it can ship 2.8 million doses to states this week from its production in anticipation of federal approval. But it won't be able to sustain that number immediately. The company produced 3.9 million doses total prior to federal approval on Saturday.
The company says it will meet its commitment to deliver 100 million doses by June 30. The deal with Merck could double production within two months.
The Biden administration estimates that after a short dip in doses, the increased production aided by Merck will rise to 4 million to 6 million doses per week by March 31 and 5 million to 6 million doses per week by April 30.
When the first two vaccines were approved in December, U.S. officials were optimistic that some of the more than 20 additional vaccines in various stages of development would soon flood the country with enough doses to quickly inoculate all Americans.
But vaccines developed by Merck, GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi failed and research was discontinued.
A vaccine by AstraZeneca did not meet federal standards for test reliability. It is in use in Britain and other parts of the world. Vaccines by Russia and China are considered unreliable by U.S. standards.
Vaccination rates have picked up in recent weeks. The CDC said just under 51 million Americans have received at least one shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. Of those, about 25.5 million have received both shots to become fully vaccinated.
That still accounts for just over 15 percent of the adult population vaccinated since the first vaccines were introduced at the end of last year.
Oregon is nearing 1 million total shots. Mass vaccination centers have been joined recently by a pharmacy program that allows residents to be inoculated closer to home.
In Oregon and other states, demand for vaccine has far outstripped supply. With additional groups being made eligible, the competition for appointments to get inoculated has been intense.
Vaccination appointments filled rapidly and breakdowns in websites and communication have plagued getting doses into people's arms.
Recent severe winter weather across the United States, including ice storms in Portland and Salem, hampered distribution and forced cancellation of thousands of appointments.
CDC officials have said that when 70 to 80 percent of the population is vaccinated, the country will reach "herd immunity" that will even protect the unvaccinated because the virus will not find enough hosts to infect.
A key step remaining is to develop a vaccine for children. The current vaccines are only authorized for those 16 and over.
Biden has said that any excess doses of vaccine could be sent to aid foreign countries to help the long-term suppression of COVID-19 around the globe. There have been 114.7 million infections and 2.54 million deaths from COVID-19 worldwide.