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Mecklenburg County is expecting thousands of doses of the newest COVID-19 vaccine as they begin to arrive in North Carolina for the first time Wednesday.
The county should get 11,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, county Health Director Gibbie Harris said Tuesday. The state announced this week it would receive 80,000 doses of the vaccine. Two other vaccines are already in use, from Moderna and Pfizer.
As the latest vaccine becomes available in the community, here’s what local health care experts say you need to know.
How effective is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
The vaccine was found to be about 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe or critical disease at least 28 days after vaccination, according to data submitted to the FDA.
What’s more, the vaccine is about 85% effective in preventing severe or critical COVID-19, according to that data.
Meanwhile, the Pfizer vaccine is about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 after two doses, and the Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective at preventing COVID-19 after two doses.
Still, Novant Health infectious disease expert Dr. David Priest called the Johnson & Johnson a “highly effective vaccine.”
He’s not worried that the research shows the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is slightly less effective than the others.
In fact, most flu vaccines are 35% to 55% effective, Priest said. But the flu vaccines are still “really effective” in the community if a lot of people get vaccinated, he said.
“It’s amazing to me that we have three vaccines already for COVID, essentially in less than a year, that are all highly effective,” he said.
Should I wait to get a particular vaccine?
No. Local health experts advise Mecklenburg residents to make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible for a shot.
Residents should get whichever of the three vaccines is available, county medical director Dr. Meg Sullivan said.
“Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Sullivan said. “We are incredibly excited that we now have three very safe and effective vaccines.”
Where can I get the new vaccine in Charlotte?
The county health department is receiving the area’s first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
But the 11,000 doses will be shared between the department and hospital systems Atrium Health and Novant Health, Harris said.
The county is opening up new appointments for vaccines between March 10 and March 31 starting Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
Anyone eligible for shots can sign up for a county vaccine appointment online at https://starmed.care/ or by calling the county COVID-19 hotline at 980-314-9400 (Option 3 for English and Option 8 for Spanish).
If no appointments are available, people can sign up for the county’s waitlist at MeckNC.gov/COVID-19.
Anyone eligible can also sign up with Novant Helath by logging into their existing MyChart account, or registering for an account online. For Atrium Health, people can log into their existing MyAtriumHealth account, or register for an account online. You can also call 704-468-8888 for an Atrium Health vaccine appointment.
How many injections does the new vaccine take?
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one injection, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna shots.
The Pfizer and Moderna shots both require two injections, spaced weeks apart.
Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
No. The vaccine does not contain the COVID-19 virus, and cannot cause COVID-19, Priest said.
Why is Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine easier to store and distribute?
Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require freezing temperatures for storage. The vaccine can be kept in normal refrigerator temperatures for up to three months, according to Johnson & Johnson.
That’s a change from the Pfizer vaccine — the first vaccine made widely available in the U.S. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultracold temperatures, meaning most providers had to purchase new freezers to store the vaccines.
Less strict temperature requirements means the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be easier to get into the community, Priest said.