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What does the new Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine mean for Montana?

COVID vaccine
Posted at 8:25 PM, Feb 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-28 22:25:24-05

GREAT FALLS — On Saturday, the FDA gave a third COVID-19 vaccine an Emergency Use Authorization. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one dose instead of two, is expected to begin shipping out to states this week. What does that mean for Montana’s vaccine supply and its capacity to keep vaccinating the state’s residents?

On Face The Nation on Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci provided an estimated timeline and prediction for how many doses of the J&J vaccine states can expect to be on their way.

“By the end of March, there will be 20 million (doses),” Dr. Fauci told moderator Margaret Brennan. “Then there will be a total of 100 million as we get probably to June, as we get halfway through the year.”

At a COVID-19 press briefing on February 25, Governor Greg Gianforte and Montana COVID-19 Task Force Executive Director General Matthew Quinn gave an update on the state’s vaccination numbers, and talked about the latest developments with the vaccines. Governor Gianforte praised health officials across the country who continue to work on developing new vaccines and treatments, while General Quinn answered questions about how many doses of the J&J vaccine he expects Montana to receive in the coming days.

“We have an expectation, about one million doses, we understand, will be released by Johnson & Johnson the week that they finally do come out,” Quinn said. “So, we'll see a prorated share of that, maybe 1,000 doses, 1,500 doses probably.”

What does the new Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine mean for Montana?

Quinn also said that state representatives typically receive updates from the CDC every Tuesday about how many vaccines are available to order, but the J&J vaccine was not included in that information last week. He expects that it might be included in the CDC’s update this coming Tuesday.

The newest vaccine comes with 66 percent efficacy and only requires one dose, not two. So, if 1,500 doses make it to the Treasure State initially, that should mean roughly 1,500 people can be added to the state’s full immunized total.

At the same press briefing on Thursday, Governor Gianforte said, “Yesterday, data from the CDC showed that Montana had used more than 93% of the doses we’ve received. The best rate in the country.”

Let’s fact-check that recent claim: Is Montana vaccinating its population faster than any other state in the country? According to the data that was available from the CDC, as of February 28, Montana is in the top 10 states for vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people, with 26,331 doses administered per 100K people (Source: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations).

As for the claim that they have used a higher percentage of available doses than any other state, another data table showed that Montana is one of the states that has administered at least 90% of available first vaccine doses, though a majority of U.S. states and territories can claim the same success, because of the nature of storage of the vaccine and how quickly it is usually being administered.

The CDC data table (Source: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/distributing/first-doses.html) does not give exact percentages over 90% for “Delivered First Vaccine Doses Administered by U.S. States and Territories,” and therefore does not provide an accurate count of exactly which states have the highest percentages in that category. It should also be noted that that figure is never expected to reach 100% for any state, as some vaccine supply will always be available to maintain inventory.