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With initial Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine shipment expected to arrive soon in Georgia, health experts say book first vaccine offered

Overall efficacy rates of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine are lower than Moderna or Pfizer, but experts tell 11Alive all three stop serious cases at the same rate.

ATLANTA — Over the weekend Gov. Brian Kemp announced Georgia is expecting an initial shipment of 83,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson to arrive within the week. 

After recently receiving an emergency use authorization from the federal government - allowing the vaccine to be distributed for use - Johnson & Johnson began sending out the first shipments of its vaccine on Monday.

Infectious disease experts told 11Alive the latest vaccine for COVID-19 could prove to be a game-changer for several reasons.

First, as vaccine supply remains limited, it simply gives doctors yet another vaccine to use during the on-going pandemic.

Second, unlike Pfizer's offering, it doesn't require ultra-cold storage, meaning Johnson & Johnson's vaccine could be a better option in more rural settings or at clinics without often-expensive, ultra-cold storage units.

Third, the vaccine is a single dose. With 83,000 doses expected to arrive in Georgia soon, that number represents 83,000 additional Georgians quickly being fully vaccinated.

"For some people, the one dose makes it easier just to call and get your appointment and get it done with - even better," said Dr. Felipe Lobelo, the physician director for epidemiology with Kaiser Permanente Georgia. 

Lobelo said he hasn't had many patients turning down Moderna or Pfizer's vaccines because they require two doses weeks apart, but if Johnson & Johnson's single-dose convinces more people to be vaccinated, all the better. 

"Hopefully it helps, because coming back for a second dose sometimes can be logistically challenging," he said.

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found a single-dose vaccine may lead to some currently hesitant Americans to seek out being vaccinated. 

The survey stated 22% of Americans were waiting to decide if they will get vaccinated for COVID-19. Of that group, 26% said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if the option was a single-dose vaccine.

"It is really a game-changer," said Dr. Carlos del Rio, infectious disease expert with Emory University. "The more we get into an easier vaccine, the easier it gets."

Del Rio said from a logistics standpoint, Johnson & Johnson has avoided one of the main issues with Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines. Because of that, the latest vaccine might be the better option for providers to offer to people with transportation issues or living in rural settings.

"If someone has to travel three hours to get to the vaccination site, let's give them one dose," he said. "You need to see who is going to have trouble scheduling to come back for the second dose, and maybe think about that as a population you target."

With cases of COVID-19 variants on the rise, del Rio also said there is pressure to increase vaccinations - but another vaccine on the market helps with that effort.

"I worry about variants in Florida and California," del Rio said. "Florida is right south from us, so if it goes up in Florida, it is soon going to be right here. So again, let's get vaccinations up."

"Georgia is running a little behind in vaccinations," he added. "We all need to work together so we can speed it up, and I think the governor and his office are very committed to that."

One point of concern 11Alive has heard with Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is over the drug's effectiveness rate.

The overall efficacy rates for blocking any infection with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72%, compared to the 95% rate for Moderna and Pfizer. 

But, all three vaccines, according to Lobelo, have shown to be 100% effective at preventing the most severe cases leading to hospitalizations or death. It is the reason he said he would advise his patients to book whatever vaccine they can, as soon as they can.

"The three of them work very similarly in terms of preventing severe disease, so please don't wait," Lobelo urged. "This is your shot to protect yourself, protect others around you, and help us move on out of this pandemic."

Last week the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a committee within the CDC, recommended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine be approved - a recommendation that ultimately led to it being authorized for use. 

On Monday the CDC's director, Rochelle Walensky, shared the same opinion as Lobelo: that everyone should take the first vaccine offered to them.

"ACIP does not state a preference for a particular COVID-19 vaccine, rather they recommend that individuals can get any ACIP-recommended COVID-19 vaccines, and they encourage individuals to receive the earliest vaccine made available to them," Walensky said.

Every person vaccinated - whether receiving the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna of Pfizer - will add up, and Lobelo said each vaccination is needed to reach the ultimate goal.

"Obviously, we need a high percentage - 80 percent or more of the population - to be willing to take the shot in order for us to get to that population immunity level," Lobelo said.