Both North Olympic Peninsula counties remained clear of new COVID-19 cases Monday,March 1, as officials prepare for the eventual delivery of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine was approved for emergency use authorization Saturday by the federal Food and Drug Administration, and the state is expected to receive 60,000 doses this week. However, it’s unknown how many might arrive on the North Olympic Peninsula, local health officers said.
The J&J vaccine is the first single-shot vaccine that has been approved in the U.S. and will be easier to vaccinate large numbers of people without having to schedule second-dose appointments, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require.
J&J also doesn’t have to be stored and transported at freezing temperatures, making it easier for rural clinics and pharmacies to administer, said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer.
“All those things together makes it a really good match for our vaccine drives, especially when we’re looking at even more remote vaccination than we’ve been doing so far,” Berry said.
While the efficacy of J&J is about 60 to 70 percent for preventing mild to moderate illness, which is lower than the 90 percent efficacies that both Moderna and Pfizer have, it has a nearly 100 percent efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19, said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County health officer.
“That’s really the key goal of vaccines,” he said. “We want to prevent the severe cases that threaten to overwhelm our healthcare system and deaths.”
The annual flu vaccine efficacy varies each year depending on the strain of the virus circulating, but the shot averages 50 percent or less, Berry said.
The drop in efficacy between J&J and Pfizer/Moderna versions is also due to the rise in more contagious variants. When Pfizer and Moderna were in the final trials before applying for emergency use authorization, the variants weren’t as commonly spread, and J&J had large amounts of testing in South Africa, where a more contagious variant has been spreading, and it still had more than a 50 percent efficacy, Locke said.
“You can’t really do a head-to-head comparison between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and Johnson & Johnson,” he said. “They were tested at different times during the pandemic, so even though the numbers are lower with Johnson & Johnson, it was tested in places where the variant strains were prevalent.
“There’s no telling if we re-ran those studies of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine against variant strains, we would probably come up with different numbers. Eventually, over time, we will have better numbers on all vaccines.”
While both counties will continue to administer Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, officials will happily distribute J&J once doses are available to the Peninsula, both Locke and Berry said.
For people debating on which vaccine they want, Berry said to get whichever one is available first.
“Whatever vaccine you can get that is available, you should get,” she said. “It’s better to get vaccinated now than to try get a particular vaccine that you might get later.
“All of them will likely play a key role in getting us to herd immunity as a community, and I recommend whichever one that is available on the day you can get a shot.”
Vaccination appointments for the Port Angeles High School clinic hosted by the Clallam County Department of Emergency Management and the Sequim clinic hosted by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe will open at 9 a.m. Wednesday, March 3, for residents 65 and older or 50 and older in a multi-generational household.
A multi-generational household is defined as a person older than 50 living with grandchildren or people older than them.
Clallam residents who qualify can make appointments at vaccine.clallam.net/register. Those who must schedule by phone can call 360-417-2430.
Jefferson Healthcare is making appointments for vaccinations through its “When is it my turn?” list, which Jefferson County residents 65 and older or Jefferson Healthcare patients can sign up for at jeffersonhealthcare.org/covid-19-vaccine.
Clallam County’s test positivity — the percentage of tests returned positive — was 2.3 percent from Feb. 12-26, according to Clallam County Public Health data.
During February, Clallam County confirmed 55 cases of COVID-19, about 5.49 percent of the 1,001 cases confirmed since last March, according to Clallam County data.
Eight COVID-19 cases were active as of Monday in Clallam County. Jefferson County had four active cases.
Clallam County is in the state’s moderate-risk category with a case rate of 37 per 100,000 population during the past two weeks as of Monday.