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Louisiana doctor speaks on Johnson & Johnson vaccine, COVID variants



LOUISIANA – After emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine by the FDA, nearly 4 million doses of the newest COVID-19 vaccine will be delivered to states starting Tuesday, March 2.

“This is great news because now we have three vaccines which will help us increase the distribution very rapidly and try to get more people immunized as quickly as possible,” Dr. Joseph Bocchini, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Willis-Knighton, said. “This is another breakthrough and I am happy to have three vaccines now to help us control this pandemic.”

Production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines has ramped up over the last few weeks, meaning more vaccines are becoming available to each state.

“We are very likely to continue to get more and more doses each week,” Dr. Bocchini said, “which means we will be able to go through the groups of people who have already been authorized to get the vaccine and then expand that to more groups. Over the past few weeks, we have added more groups of people to the list who can come forward and get vaccinated. This is a real good in the sense that we now have three manufacturers who are able to provide us vaccines. Pzifer has increased production, so we should get more doses of the Pfizer vaccine. J&J has millions of doses that they are already able to start shipping. I think we will see more and more vaccines each week and then we will need to work to try and increase our ability to distribute it. As soon as we get them, we need to put them in people’s arms.”

This comes as experts continue to warn against the spread of COVID-19 variants. The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) confirm cases of the UK COVID-19 variant, or SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7, spread to the state in January.

“The variants are a major concern,” Dr. Bocchini said. “We are really in a race right now to get more people immunized as quickly as possible to help fewer people become infected, especially infected with the variants that are out there. I think that the variants are a challenge. This virus will continue to mutate and the more people that are infected, the greater number of mutations. With the UK strain, the CDC believes that somewhere in the middle of this month that it might become the predominate strain in this country. The South African strain has already been seen in 10 states. The CDC has indicated from their data it looks like we are starting to see community spread of the South African variant. I think it’s important for people to understand that yes, the vaccines are coming, that there are more people who are going to get vaccinated and we need to do that as quickly as possible.”

Dr. Bocchini and other health experts have growing concerns that more variants could potentially pop up and become immune to the available vaccines.

“The J&J vaccine appeared in the studies to be less effective against the South African strain, but it was still over 50% affective in moderate to severe cases,” Dr. Bocchini said.

All available vaccines are still largely effective against the coronavirus and known strains. Dr. Bocchini says while vaccines will soon become available to more people, we should continue mitigation efforts, like wearing a face mask and social distancing.