'A game-changer': MDH applauds approval of J&J COVID vaccine, prepares for expanded eligibility

FILE - This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. Photo: Johnson & Johnson via AP. FILE - This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

Josh Skluzacek/ Alex Jokich
Updated: March 02, 2021 10:09 PM
Created: March 02, 2021 03:16 PM

During a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Minnesota health officials applauded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to battle the pandemic, calling it "a game-changer."

The Minnesota Department of Health expects the newly authorized Johnson and Johnson vaccine to arrive in the state as early as Thursday.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Infectious Diseases Director Kris Ehresmann said the one-shot vaccine is a great tool in the battle against COVID-19 and will be particularly useful in vaccinating certain populations, such as those who are less likely to be able to return for a second dose.

Minnesota is expected to get 45,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, however, future allocation details are still uncertain. Malcom and Ehresmann expressed optimism that supply for all three approved vaccines will ramp up in the coming weeks.

"We view Johnson and Johnson's vaccine as a game-changer that will help us quickly provide immunity to even more Minnesotans," said MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann.
The new vaccine is different than the other two previously authorized by the FDA, produced by Pfizer and Moderna. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a one-dose shot that can be stored in refrigerators instead of specialized freezers.

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5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked state health officials if this new vaccine will change their vaccination strategy.
"It will be available to multiple eligible populations within Minnesota, but there are certain aspects of how this vaccine is stored and handled, the fact that it’s a single dose, that mean it will be particularly useful in certain settings," Ehresmann responded. "So yes, we certainly will be looking at considering this vaccine in settings where we think there may be more challenges with someone coming back for a second dose. Or for instance, there's been no evidence of any anaphylaxis associated with this vaccine, so if we were vaccinating homebound populations, this would be a good vaccine to consider for that. There's lots of different populations that there may be some unique characteristics of what this vaccine brings to the table and we will evaluate all of those."

Ehresmann also said this vaccine may be better suited for mobile clinics or field vaccinations, since its storage requirements are not as stringent as those produced by Pfizer or Moderna.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS also asked if Minnesotans will have a choice as to which vaccine they receive.
"When you're offered a vaccine, you should take the vaccine you're offered. Certainly if you don't want that vaccine, you can say you're not going to take it now, but that means you're going to have to get back in line and just wait until you have the opportunity to get a different vaccine," Ehresmann said.

The state is also still on track to vaccinate at least 70% of Minnesotans 65 and older by the end of March. Once that 70% threshold is reached, MDH is ready to expand eligibility to the next populations in line to receive a vaccine. Malcolm said better communication from the federal government has helped MDH have a better plan, and the hope is that Minnesotans in the next group of eligibility can be contacted as soon as the 70% threshold is reached thanks to that improved planning ability.

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