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Emergency authorization sought for new vaccine

By Fran Gonzalez | Feb 23, 2021

Augusta — A new COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is set to be evaluated Friday by the Food and Drug Administration as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for emergency use authorization.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday, Feb. 23, the vaccine differs from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in that it only requires one dose and also does not need ultra-cold storage.

Johnson & Johnson, Shah said, is poised to make 100,000,000 doses available by later this summer.

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is rated 85% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 across all the regions in which it was studied, Shah said it is 100% effective at preventing COVID-related hospitalizations, as well as deaths, starting 28 days after administration of the single-dose vaccine.

No one who received the vaccine, he said, needed to be hospitalized in intensive care or be put on a ventilator.

“For things that matter, for example, severe disease, or hospitalizations, or death,” he said, “there was a striking reduction as a result of the J & J vaccine. (There is an) 85% reduction in severe disease and a 100% reduction for the need to be put into an ICU, and thankfully, the possibility of death.”

He said the difference in effectiveness was connected with the differences in how the respective vaccines' effectiveness was measured in the trials. “On some levels,” he said, “they are not comparing apples to apples,” because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested after variants had been identified.

What is important, he said, is that all three vaccines have 100% efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and the need for intensive care unit treatment..

Ultimately, Shah said, “you should get the first COVID-19 vaccine that is offered to you.” This vaccine will keep you alive and out of the hospital.

Speaking about vaccinations, Shah said as of today, 301,705 total doses had been administered, with 202,761 first doses and 98,944 people second, or final, doses. This means 54% of people 70 and over in the state have received at least their first dose of the vaccine.

Walgreens Pharmacy will now be offering vaccinations at over 40 locations across Maine with registration opening sometime today. For information about locations near you, visit walgreens.com/findcare/vaccination/covid-19/location-screening.

In addition to vaccinations, Walgreens pharmacies in Machias, Houlton, Biddeford and Bethel all will offer PCR testing.

Northern Light Health Care will again offer extended vaccination hours at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Shah said that those who are 70 or over for whom going to Bangor is an option should make an appointment right away, with spots open for Thursday and Saturday. To make an appointment, visit covid.northernlighthealth.org/ or call 204-8551. It is not necessary to be a patient of Northern Light to be vaccinated through this program, he said.

The Maine CDC reported two additional deaths today — a man and a woman, both from Oxford County. One was in their 60s and the other was in their 80s. This brings the overall death toll to 660 people across the state.

Since yesterday, an additional 142 cases of COVID-19 were reported to the Maine CDC, as compared to 218 Thursday, Feb. 18. Currently there are 67 people hospitalized across the state with 25 in intensive care units and seven on ventilators.

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