Reynolds touts, and receives, J&J vaccine

Kyle Ocker, Ottumwa Courier, Iowa
·3 min read

Mar. 3—DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds called those who have criticized the effectiveness of the newly approved Johnson and Johnson vaccine irresponsible, and then received the shot on camera during her Wednesday news conference.

"Some critics are suggesting that the J&J vaccine is somehow inferior to those from Pfizer and Moderna because its efficacy rate is lower," Reynolds said. "This information is misleading and quite frankly it's irresponsible to position any vaccine as a less desirable option when it's undergone the same rigorous clinical trials to test its safety and efficacy and has received approval from the FDA and the CDC."

The two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have been shown in clinical studies to be effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections by 94.1% and 95%, respectively.

The single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is about 70% effective at preventing severe or moderate COVID-19 infections and appeared 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths from infections in clinical studies.

During Wednesday's press conference, Reynolds invited Dr. Pat Winokur to present information on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Winokur is the executive dean of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa and is the senior associate director of the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.

"People have gotten caught up on that the 70% versus 90% ... but remember this vaccine, when you look carefully at the data, it is exceptionally good at preventing severe disease and hospitalizations," Winokur said.

Winokur also pointed out that under the best of circumstances flu vaccines are 70% effective. "We know, though, that those flu vaccines make a huge difference in places like nursing homes, and the spread in school systems. ... 70% effective is outstanding," she said.

The most important benefit of the vaccines, Winokur said, is that they prevent severe illnesses and hospitalizations.

Ultimately, of the three vaccines currently on the market, Winokur suggests taking the first that is offered.

"We encourage anybody who has the opportunity to get a vaccine, to get the first vaccine that's available to them," she said.

Reynolds believes the less stringent storage requirements and single-dose nature of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help speed up vaccinations.

In fact, Reynolds said the state is discovering a problem with individuals not getting their second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines as directed.

"It really is hard ... to get people to schedule that second dose," Reynolds said. "Just the logistics of making all that happen."

State officials believe the problem of late second doses is tied to distribution through pharmacies, and Reynolds said state officials are working directly with them to determine what the hang-ups are.

About 6% of Iowa residents have received two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That joins Utah as the lowest level of out the 50 states.

Beyond the pharmaceutical issues noted by Reynolds, she also said there may be a data reporting lag connected to the federal long-term care partnership program. That partnership is working to update its reporting. "We think that will correct itself relatively quickly," she said.

Iowa ranks as the 13th best state when it comes to the percent of the population receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Before taking questions from the media Wednesday, Reynolds broke briefly to be administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She said she wanted to wait to receive a vaccine to make sure frontline health care workers, essential workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities could receive the vaccine first due to vaccine supply limitations.

Ten minutes later, Reynolds said she felt fine after the shot and "hardly even felt it."

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.