PORTLAND, Maine — Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah issued a plea to Mainers Tuesday morning to get whichever COVID-19 vaccine they are first offered in order to increase people's immunity to the virus.
"You should get the first vaccine offered to you. All are 100 percent effective in preventing what matters," said Dr. Shah.
Shah referenced the differing effectiveness rates of the Pfizer, Moderna, and yet-to-be-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines, saying that all three prevent death, hospitalization, or the need for a patient to go on a ventialor.
The Food and Drug Administration’s scientists confirmed that overall the J&J vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. The agency also said J&J's shot — one that could help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two — is safe to use.
That’s just one step in the FDA’s evaluation of a third vaccine option for the U.S. On Friday, the agency’s independent advisers will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the long-anticipated shot. Armed with that advice, FDA is expected to make a final decision on whether to grant the J&J vaccine emergency use authorization within days. The single-shot doses do not require the ultra-cold freezers for storage that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do.
"In the middle of a pandemic, with disease all around us, the best thing you can do, the best health decision, is to take the first vaccine offered to you," said Shah. "Waiting for the vaccine you might want compared to the one you have is not a wise move. I recommend you take whatever vaccine is presented at whatever time."
Shah said the J&J vaccine has different effectiveness rates because of when and where J&J conducted its clinical trials, including in places like South Africa, where researchers knew variants existed.
Maine's number one barrier in the vaccine rollout is supply, and, if approved, the J&J version could provide a significant bump.
"Supply governs speed, and speed governs how we open vaccinations to other groups," said Dr. Shah.