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County says a one-dose application works for hard-to-reach populations; state authorities don't want to discriminate

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Jefferson County Public Health received 100 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson company. Currently protocols call for just one dose of the vaccine per patient. Studies underway may change that.

Tuesday, March 2, Jefferson County Public Health received 100 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine made by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson company, but the Oregon Health Authority still doesn't know how to use the new vaccine.

Until this week, the county used only the Moderna vaccine, which requires two doses one month apart. Since current protocol for the Janssen vaccine calls for just one dose, Public Health Director Michael Baker planned to use it with specific groups.

"We would prioritize the single dose vaccine for individuals who were not available easily to get the second dose." Baker would use the one-dose application for people who are homebound, in jail or homeless.

The OHA doesn't like the idea of targeting a specific group of people for a vaccine some might consider inferior.

The Moderna vaccine prevents COVID almost 95% of the time. Trials with the Janssen vaccine shows it prevents COVID about 67% of the time, still far better than most flu vaccines, just not as good as two doses of Moderna.

"The perceptions is that we might be prioritizing certain populations to receive, and I put this in very big, bold quotes, 'inferior vaccine,' in comparison to those who have access to regular health care," says Baker.

Jefferson County Commission Chair Kelly Simmelink took issue with OHA's opinion: "We think we're holier than thou to make decisions like that?"

"I think there are more than 100 people in this community," said Commissioner Wayne Fording, "that would like to have the one dose and get it over with."

Janssen Pharmaceuticals says it is studying whether a second dose of its vaccine improves its effectiveness.

If case the study recommends two doses, OHA wants people who get the Janssen vaccine to know they may need to return for a second shot. This forces Baker to redirect his strategy. "Back to square one where we have to plan for a second dose even if there is no need in the future."

Baker says he knows his team will have a hard time reaching some populations for a second appointment.

"We're still looking for guidance," says Baker.

Public Health directors from Central Oregon plan to meet with state officials Thursday, March 4, to get clear direction for using this new tool in their COVID toolbox.


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