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Washington could receive Johnson & Johnson doses next week, will stay in current phase

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 26, 2021

Vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is shown Dec. 2.  (HONS)
Vials of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is shown Dec. 2. (HONS)
By Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich The Spokesman-Review

If the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine gets approved for emergency use on Friday, Washington could distribute the single-dose shots statewide as early as next week.

Washington will receive 60,900 doses in its first allotment if the Food and Drug Administration advisory panel approves the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Michele Roberts, assistant secretary of health, told reporters Thursday.

The Department of Health is waiting for final guidance from the FDA as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before officials finalize plans of how to use the single-dose shots, but health officials hinted at potential uses.

State Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said he and other secretaries nationwide have asked the federal agencies for clear guidance on the vaccine’s use. He is confident of its approval on Friday.

“We’re anticipating that we’re going to get not just the vaccine but guidance on its optimal use,” Shah said Thursday.

Initially, the Johnson & Johnson doses will likely go to counties and jurisdictions that need to catch up on the current phase of vaccination, health officials said on Thursday. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage, making it easier to get to more remote and rural regions, as well as providers who might not have the technology needed to store the other vaccines.

The first doses of the single-dose vaccine will help complete the Phase 1B Tier 1 group of residents eligible for the vaccine, Acting State Health Officer Dr. Scott Lindquist said on Thursday. That phase includes everyone 65 and older or 50 and older in multigenerational households.

Next, the Department has thought about certain industries like maritime, fishing and agriculture settings, in which a single-dose shot could help cut out the logistical challenge of needing to come back for a second dose, which is required for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The state will not release its plan for how the Johnson & Johnson doses will be allocated until next week, after the FDA, CDC and Western states’ committees have approved the vaccine for emergency use and given their own recommendations on who should get the shot.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown slightly less efficacy against the virus than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested in regions with the South African variant and still performed quite well.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown 66% efficacy against moderate to severe COVID-19 cases and up to 85% efficacy against severe COVID-19 at least 28 days after inoculation.

State health officials asked residents to get vaccinated when they can, regardless of which vaccine is being offered.

“If you have an opportunity and you’re eligible to get vaccine and you have an appointment, get the vaccine regardless of which vaccine it is,” Shah said.

More vaccines will continue to flow into Washington next week, with about 280,000 doses expected to arrive. By mid-March, health officials expect Washington distributors to receive about 313,000 doses per week.

Vaccine demand still far outweighs the supply coming into the state, and about 300 of the 1,200 providers who can vaccinate residents are receiving doses on a regular basis.

State remains in Phase 2 as Inslee evaluates future phases in coming weeks

The entire state will remain in Phase 2 of the reopening plan for now, Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday. Although each region’s phase was set to be reevaluated this week, Inslee announced a pause in the plan, meaning no region will move backward.

Inslee and health officials will work during the next few weeks to determine what future phases might look like.

“We will evaluate the situation and figure out how to continue going forward,” he said Thursday.

Inslee said he will work with community leaders, businesses and health officials to determine what might be the best way to move into Phase 3. He said he will continue evaluating data daily to determine what’s next.

“We need information to be able to do that in an effective way,” he said. “We want to give people the truth, as much predictability as possible.”

But when Phase 3 might be announced is unclear. It may be the end of March or it might be sooner, but it will depend on data, Inslee said.

Currently, regions need to meet three of the four metrics:

  • A 10% decreasing trend in COVID-19 case rates;
  • A 10% decrease in COVID-19 hospital admission rates;
  • An ICU occupancy rate less than 90%;
  • A COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 10%.

Where each region stands in these metrics is usually updated every two weeks, so regions can determine if they’ll be moving forward. Information on where each region stands in these categories won’t be updated during this pause, but data on the Department of Health’s online dashboard will continue being updated, Lindquist said.

No information about how those metrics will change to determine future phases is available.

Although the potential for moving forward is good news to some, Inslee again urged everyone to remain cautious, especially as new variants show up across the state.

“We cannot let our guard down when we are so close to a potential victory,” he said.

A look at local numbers

On Thursday, the Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 94 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death.

There are 54 patients with COVID-19 being treated in Spokane hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 44 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday and seven additional deaths from the virus.

So far, 261 Panhandle residents have died from COVID-19.

There are 20 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus currently.

Arielle Dreher and Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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