The first 6,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived at Atrium Health today, adding to the enterprise’s supply of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine options.

Coronavirus Updates | 4 months ago

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Another Asset to Help Atrium Health Fight COVID-19

Armed with 6,000 doses of the new single-shot, easy-to-store doses, Atrium Health can increase its reach and improve the community's access to life-saving COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Like most people nowadays, Eddie Seijo, PharmD, spends plenty of time with a mask covering his face. But there was no concealing the wide smile when he learned that Atrium Health was receiving 6,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is huge,” says Seijo, Atrium Health’s director of pharmacy operations. 

He’s excited about the increased access that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine offers. There are two distinct differences compared to the Pfizer and Moderna versions: It doesn’t require two shots and it doesn’t require freezing temperatures for storage. Those characteristics will be a tremendous aid in the quest to vaccinate at least 75% of the community. 

“We can vaccinate and prevent a lot of disease with one single dose, opposed to people having to come back after a three- or four-week lapse,” Seijo says. “And since it’s simply refrigerated, almost any healthcare facility, pharmacy, or doctor’s office can store it. We can provide that vaccine to many more people at those locations, opposed to having them come into specific sites that have the ability to store the other products.”

Atrium Health, Novant Health, and the Mecklenburg County Health Department collaborated on a special request to the state that would allow them more opportunities to provide a safe and effective vaccine to day care, preK-12 teachers and staff. With the initial 6,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, educators will be targeted first, followed by other eligible groups as supply permits.

Another asset for the fight

Seijo says Atrium Health is working through logistics in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, given the limited supply at the moment. But individuals who have mobility or transportation issues – or might be reluctant to visit larger vaccination sites – could be early candidates to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at locations that are smaller and easier to reach.

“We’re looking at what makes the most sense for all of our vaccines as the supply continues to increase over the next four months,” he says. “This is just another tool in our arsenal to fight where we’re at and try to get back to normal life.”

It’s a tool that can be kept at normal refrigerated temperature for up to three months. By comparison, the Pfizer vaccine lasts up to five days in the refrigerator after being thawed and the Moderna vaccine lasts up to 30 days after being thawed.

As for any concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Seijo says Atrium Health has absolutely none. It meets all of the safety criteria and has proven effective at preventing and decreasing the rates of hospitalization and complications attributed to COVID-19.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine hits the mark in the areas we really care about: keeping people out of the hospital and keeping them from having that severe, life-threatening disease,” Seijo says.

Best choice is first one available

By the time Mecklenburg County health officials held a news conference March 2 to discuss the 10,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine that were on the way to the county, Atrium Health already had administered more than 253,000 total vaccinations – with no shortage of demand.

“We’re booked out with appointments at our standing sites into June,” said Gary Little, MD, SVP, Chief Medical Officer, Atrium Health. “But we’ll be holding pop-up events between now and the end of the month, and anybody who’s eligible will be able to schedule into those appointments when they become available.”

Gibbie Harris, MSPH, BSH, RN, the county’s Public Health Director, said there’s no indication when another shipment of Johnson & Johnson vaccine might arrive. Or how much. “It’s a very fluid situation, which makes it a little challenging to plan,” she said. “But we want to make sure we’re using whatever vaccine is available to Mecklenburg County.”

Residents can help by not being picky. Health officials insist that the best choice is whichever you can get in your arm first.

“At this moment it’s important for us to get as much vaccine into the community as possible,” said Meg Sullivan, MD, the county’s Public Health Medical Director. “That includes the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Our advice to everybody at this time continues to be: If you are eligible for a vaccine, please make an appointment for a vaccine and make an appointment for the vaccine that’s available.

“They’re all safe and effective, and we want to get them all out as quickly and equitably as possible.”

The vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. To sign up for the vaccine or to learn more about vaccination events, eligibility and prescreening, please visit AtriumHealth.org/COVID19Vaccine.