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J&J COVID-19 vaccine to arrive in Utah Wednesday; Health care providers call it a ‘game changer’ for rural areas

Posted at 8:46 PM, Feb 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-01 00:00:33-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A new single-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson and Johnson received emergency use authorization by the FDA Saturday.

“We expect the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will arrive in Utah on Wednesday, and we are working through the details to determine how best to utilize these vaccines. These vaccines are a game changer and will help accelerate our fight against COVID-19,” a spokesperson for Gov. Spencer Cox’s office said.

The newly approved vaccine only requires one dose and does not require special storage, which is a game changer for rural areas, Dr. Jarid Gray with Intermountain Healthcare’s Cedar City Hospital said. Both the currently available COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, require two does and special storage and handling.

“Hoping that as we get more rolled out that they will be able to go to their physician’s office, instead of the health department or a pharmacy because some of these towns don’t have a pharmacy,” he said.

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Both the currently available COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, require two does and special storage and handling. While the single-dose will help in some ways with scheduling and access, the true game changer for rural communities will be the storage, according to Rachel Jensen, a school nurse in Sanpete County.

“We don’t have these large hospitals or pharmacies with these huge buying capacities to store Moderna and Pfizer,” she said. “In a rural setting, that’s what gives us the availability in multiple locations besides the health department and Walmart who can afford to purchase the freezers to store the vaccine.”

More than 335,000 Utahns live in rural communities, according to the USDA. Utah has 14 rural health clinics and 21 rural hospitals, according to the Utah Department of Health. Yet, there can still be challenges with rural communities and access to health care, Dr. Gray said. The ability to provide a single shot dose for the COVID-19 vaccine will be beneficial.

“If you have the opportunity to give someone one shot and you never see them again, you have a little more confidence that are not going to fall through the cracks,” he said.

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The J&J vaccine does not appear to be as effective as the other two-dose options, Jensen pointed out. While she would still choose the more effective option, she sees a lot of benefits to the J&J vaccine in an effort to get COVID-19 under control and quickly vaccinate the population, as well as making it more accessible.

“Being in a pandemic, logistically, it is difficult to do those two doses,” she said.

This could bring us much closer to a "normal" life, Dr. Gray said.

“I think from a world standpoint, this is the one that is going to push us through the finish line,” he said.

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccine in Utah and to see who is eligible, click here.