Now that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved, when can you actually get it?

johnson and johnson vaccine availability
Photo via Jernej Furman/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: April 13, 2021

Three days after the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was approved by the Federal Drug Administration, nearly 4 million doses will be distributed and available as soon as March 2. So, if you’re asking when you can get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the answer is this: almost immediately.

According to CNN, a Biden Administration official stated Feb. 28 that “3.9 million doses of J&J will be distributed across all channels, states, tribes, territories and pharmacies, and community health centers.” 

Earlier that day, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky touted the vaccine’s benefits to encourage people to get inoculated against COVID-19. “As a one-dose vaccine, people do not have to return for a second dose to be protected. In addition, this vaccine does not need to be kept in a freezer and can be stored at refrigerated temperatures—so it is easy to transport and store and allows for expanded availability in most community settings and mobile sites, as supply scales up.”

On April 13, though, the U.S. stopped giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of six instances of people developing potentially deadly blood clots. Almost 7 million people in the U.S. had received the vaccine before it was halted.

As the Washington Post noted, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s reduced efficacy in preventing COVID-19 infection raises concerns that go beyond medical management. “Decisions to send the shots to harder-to-reach communities make practical sense, because Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine is easier to store and use. But they could drive perceptions of a two-tiered vaccine system, riven along racial or class lines—with marginalized communities getting what they think is an inferior product.” 

The vaccine performed better on the variant first found in South Africa than originally thought. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine efficacy on that variant was 64%, seven percentage points higher than the original data showed (beginning in the summer of 2021, Johnson & Johnson will start phase 1 of trials for the vaccine that targets the variant).

In the U.S., the vaccine’s efficacy rate is 72%, and worldwide, the efficacy rate after 30 days is 66%.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both have efficacy of at least 94%. But Vox made a point in Johnson & Johnson’s favor in its Mar. 1 article declaring it a “game-changer.” 

“From a practical standpoint,” that article noted, “it means that the new vaccine could really speed up America’s vaccination campaign—certainly more than another two-dose vaccine would. It also fixes a problem that’s long bedeviled medical treatments that require multiple doses: A lot of patients tend to drop off after the first appointment.” 

The article also termed the 66% number the wrong number to look at when considering its effectiveness in slowing and mitigating a pandemic that has taken more than 560,000 American lives

“The vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing people from getting sick with symptoms is arguably much less important than the vaccine’s effectiveness against hospitalization and death,” the Vox article argued. “And there is the promising news: In trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine brings both of those down to zero. It squashes the biggest thing that made COVID-19 so threatening to people: Its ability to kill.” 

NBC News noted that although the rollout will be almost immediate, it will also be “uneven” throughout the month, with a goal of 20 million doses delivered by April 1 and a ramp-up to 100 million doses by summer (in late March, the company said it would hit that goal of 20 million). So while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available almost immediately, there still may be a question of when you can actually get it.

Especially since an April 1 New York Times report noted that 15 million doses had been compromised after plant workers in Baltimore mixed up the vaccine’s ingredients. That will delay the number of doses that would have gone out in April.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, labeling all three available vaccines as “highly efficacious,” touted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a suitable option for people who want to protect themselves against COVID-19 and have not gotten a vaccination. 

“If you go to a place and you have J&J and that’s the one that’s available now, I would take it,” Fauci advised. “I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

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Sources: CNN, Washington Post, Vox, NBC News

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