Bay Area health officers emphasize safety of all 3 available COVID-19 vaccines

JNJ-78436735 is Janssen Pharmaceuticals Companies of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine. It is a one-dose vaccine for individuals 18 and over, with full protection 28 days after vaccination. The vaccine has been shown to be effective at preventing severe COVID-19 illness, hospitalization, and death. (Photo courtesy of Janssen Pharmaceuticals)

Health officers in 10 counties in the greater Bay Area on Monday emphasized the safety of the three available COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to curb skepticism and encourage residents to get vaccinated.

The health officers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties as well as the city of Berkeley issued the joint statement as vaccine hesitancy has ticked up following the federal approval of the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, which requires just one dose.

“What we can say with certainty is that all three vaccines provide levels of protection that are comparable to some of the best vaccines we have for other serious infectious diseases for which we routinely vaccinate people,” the health officers said.

Concerns about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stem from its perceived lack of effectiveness in clinical trials.

In phase three clinical trials, which included some 40,000 participants, the J&J vaccine was roughly 66.1 percent effective at preventing symptoms after four weeks, 85.4 percent effective at blocking severe cases and 100 percent effective at preventing deaths and hospitalizations, according to the company.

The two-dose vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech showed slightly higher effectiveness at 95 percent, leading to some concern that the J&J vaccine is undesirable.

The health officers argued, however, that the clinical trial results are not perfect comparisons due to their different trial populations and the different phases of the pandemic in which trials were completed.

The three vaccines have also not been studied head-to-head, the health officials said.

“If this had occurred in the absence of a prior announcement and implementation of 94 and 95 percent efficacy (vaccines), one would have said this was an absolutely spectacular result,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said about the J&J vaccine during a media briefing in January.

Alameda County health workers prepare different sized syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a distribution clinic at St. Rose hospital in Hayward on Jan. 27, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters.

In addition, the J&J vaccine has several benefits that those from Pfizer and Moderna do not, including much less cumbersome storage requirements and the need for only one dose, eliminating the need to return for a second dose three weeks after the first.

“With COVID-19 continuing to circulate as we work toward community immunity, our collective medical advice is this: the best vaccine is the one you can get the soonest,” the health officers said.

Residents in each of the 10 counties are encouraged to contact their medical provider or public health department if they have questions about the vaccines.

Residents can visit https://myturn.ca.gov or call (833) 422-4255 to find out if they are eligible for a vaccine or sign up to be notified once it is their turn.

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