Some of the nation’s top health officials are urging Americans to receive the first COVID-19 vaccine available to them and are working on more information on which activities are safe post-vaccination, as the number of cases nationwide begins creeping back up.
Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of the COVID-19 health equity task force, said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would reach all communities, but that the newest vaccine could be most helpful for people who cannot or do not want to come in for a second dose or at locations where it’s difficult to store two previously authorized vaccines.
This week, Johnson & Johnson is sending out its entire 3.9 million dose supply of vaccine, which was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday. Officials stressed the vaccine was shown to be safe and highly effective against severe disease.
“As a physician, I strongly urge everyone in America to get the first vaccine that is available to you when it is your turn,” Nunez-Smith said.
Nunez-Smith added that the vaccines that have been authorized should be distributed evenly, so that certain communities don’t only have access to one type of vaccine, addressing concerns that hard-to-reach areas could receive more doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines than the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. The administration would intervene if certain vaccines are consistently going only to certain communities, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccine advisory committee is developing recommendations about how to allocate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Committee members meeting Monday suggested that the one-shot vaccine could be especially effective for people who want to be vaccinated quickly, those who cannot return for a second dose and mobile or homebound populations. The vaccine can be stored in a standard refrigerator for up to three months, making it well suited for mobile or pop-up vaccination clinics, newly established vaccine administration sites and sites that do not have freezer capacity, such as primary care provider offices.
Guidance on activities after vaccination
The CDC is also working on guidance for people who have been vaccinated outlining what types of activities are safe. Rochelle Walensky, the agency's director, said the guidance would be out “soon,” but warned that the agency was more focused during the first 100 days of the administration on lowering the number of cases, rather than opening up travel, for instance.
Still, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that a small group of fully vaccinated people could likely gather inside a home without wearing masks.
Walensky said she is “deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic,” given that the decline of new COVID-19 cases has leveled off and the most recent seven-day averages of new cases and deaths are both up roughly 2 percent over the last seven-day period.
“We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths,” Walensky told reporters over a Zoom briefing on Monday. “At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained.”
Ariel Cohen contributed to this story.