Johnson & Johnson vaccine could arrive in Alaska as early as next week

(Scott Gross)
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:49 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - There could soon be three different COVID-19 vaccines available to Alaskans, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to meet Friday to consider whether to recommend a vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson for emergency use authorization.

State public health officials said Monday that if all goes well, the doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could arrive in Alaska as early as next week.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is different from the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines in a few ways, according to health officials.

It’s expected to be a one-dose vaccine, instead of two-series vaccine like the others. It can also be stored in at refrigerator temperatures, rather than the exceptionally cold storage temperatures required by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Additionally, the science behind the vaccine is different.

The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines give your cells a blueprint to make the distinct spike protein found on the coronavirus, according to health officials, and that’s how your immune system gets its first look at COVID-19, according to Dr. Liz Ohlsen with Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services.

“[The Johnson & Johnson vaccine] goes sort of one step back in the process,” she explained during a school briefing on Monday. “So, what these vaccines do is they use a adenovirus, so a virus that doesn’t cause any disease in humans, as a way to get some genetic material into the cells. And again, this isn’t the kind of genetic material that can change your genes, but it’s a little snippet of genetic material that gets translated into RNA, and then gets made into a protein, which is the spike protein that your immune system looks at. So, very similar result to the mRNA vaccines, just a little bit different of a way of getting it into your cells.”

The adenovirus, she explained, acts as a carrier transporting the spike protein’s blueprint to your cells. Ohlsen said the technology has been used in other vaccines, including an Ebola vaccine.

Public health officials expect a “deluge” of data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be released later this week, ahead of the FDA’s meeting to consider the vaccine.

“The preliminary stuff that really we saw is that, when you’re looking at people being sick, requiring hospitalizations and deaths, it’s very similar to the other, Johnson & Johnson and the mRNA vaccine, so all these vaccines look like they do a really good job of making sure you don’t die from COVID or need hospitalization from COVID,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.

Public health officials expected to learn Tuesday what Alaska’s vaccine allocation would be for the month of March. Late Tuesday afternoon, a DHSS spokesperson said officials had not yet heard from the federal government on the March vaccine allotment.

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