Doctor urges Americans to get whatever COVID-19 vaccine is available to them

Americans now have a third coronavirus vaccine option after Johnson & Johnson received emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its single-dose shot. The company wants to distribute 20 million doses by the end of March. CBS News transportation correspondent Errol Barnett reports on the rollout from Louisville, Kentucky, and Dr. Ron Elfenbein, the medical director and owner of First Call Medical Center, joined CBSN to discuss.

Video Transcript

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: A lot of news to get to. Most important information right now is, as I say, Americans now have a third coronavirus vaccine option. Nearly 4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are on their way to vaccination sites around the country this morning. You're looking at video of the first shipments leaving a facility near Shepherdsville, Kentucky, earlier today.

This is the third COVID-19 vaccine to receive an emergency authorization from the FDA and the first that only requires one shot. Medical trial has found the vaccine to be 85% effective when it comes to protecting against severe COVID-19 cases. It's also easier to distribute and doesn't have to be stored in extreme cold temperatures. Errol Barnett is in Louisville with more.

ERROL BARNETT: This is a significant day in the fight against this pandemic. Right now the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine is being packaged at a facility roughly 20 miles south from where I'm standing. And in the next few hours, those 4 million doses will march up I-65 and arrive at this facility before being loaded onto cargo planes, just like the ones you see in the distance behind me.

In fact, UPS has designed special labels for those packages, each affixed with special Bluetooth technology so they can track each and every package to the inch. UPS telling CBS News they predict it will take about 20 hours for them to receive these packages, hand them over to states, and deliver them at their final destination. So we're looking at a Tuesday morning arrival, at the earliest, for those who want to get this shot.

But these 4 million doses are not enough. Johnson & Johnson wants to distribute 20 million by the end of March and 100 million by the end of June. In fact, on "60 Minutes," Bill Whitaker pressed the Johnson & Johnson executive VP in charge of manufacturing about ramping up production.

- We have controls. We have procedures. We have testing. All of that is very complicated and very complex. We're not manufacturing simple items here. We're manufacturing complex biologics. And the concerted effort, the choreography, if you will, and the time it takes to ramp that up, it just simply takes time.

ERROL BARNETT: Also on Sunday, President Biden's chief medical advisor, that's Dr. Anthony Fauci, effectively said don't be concerned about the lower efficacy of this vaccine. He says there are now three viable vaccines, and he encourages people to get whichever one is available where you are so you have protection against this deadly virus. Anne-Marie and Vlad.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: All right, Errol, thank you very much. So for more on this, let's bring in Dr. Ron Elfenbein. He's the medical director and owner of First Call Medical Center. So good news.

We've got this Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I am told that doses have already been shipped out. So the question is, when can-- when will those doses be available for people to actually get inoculated?

RON ELFENBEIN: Yeah, so that's the important question, right? So they're shipping out, as Vlad said earlier, about almost 4 million doses this week. They're not going to ship out any next week. And then, I believe by the end of March, they're supposed to get 16 million out to the federal government for distribution across the country. It was authorized on Saturday.

So as soon as those vaccines get into the hands of vaccine sites, they can start getting into people's shoulders and arms. So that should be later today. If not later today, then early tomorrow morning. So, I mean, it's ready to go, as you see. And you just pointed-- your reporter just pointed out in the last segment there they're shipping them right now. So as soon as they arrive where they're needed, they'll be used.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: So this vaccine has a couple of big advantages, Doctor, as you know, including that it's only one shot, does not need to be kept at sub-zero temperatures. How important are those distinctions? I do note that it's-- and I guess what's important, I think, for people to understand, when we say that one vaccine is 95% or 98% effective against the coronavirus and another one is 85%, people go, well, obviously, I want the one that's 95%, right. I always want the better one. But just medically speaking, how big of a difference is that, or not?

RON ELFENBEIN: Right. So great question, Vlad. Thank you for asking it. So the important-- I think the take-home message for your viewers, the most important distinction is that the Pfizer vaccine, as you pointed out, is 85% efficacious versus 95%, is 100% efficacious at keeping people from out of the hospital and from dying. That's the most important thing.

Now, people that got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine still got-- you know, got coronavirus and still got sick with coronavirus, but nobody died with it and nobody had to be hospitalized. That's the important point. So yes, there's a 10%, roughly, difference in efficacy. But remember, too, that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was-- the trials were going on while the UK variant and the South African variant were out. Whereas the Pfizer and Moderna trials were going on when those variants had not been identified yet, and presumably had not been spreading.

So, you know, is there really a 10% difference in efficacy? Nobody really knows. So you're absolutely right that this is a perfectly good vaccine. It uses traditional-- sort of traditional vaccine technology, which is an adenovirus, which is a different kind of coronavirus. They take a little bit of the DNA from the COVID-19. They stick it into the adenovirus, and people can-- can get that.

That's how the flu shot works. That's how most other vaccines work. So this is kind of a more traditional route. But as you pointed out, it's a one-shot, one-and-done, and it does not need to be kept at ridiculously cold temperatures. So distributing this is going to be much easier and much faster.

And it's going to be much easier to get a large swath of the population vaccinated as opposed to the other two, the Moderna and the Pfizer, which are both excellent as well. But again, people shouldn't hang their hats on 85% versus 95%. The important point is that it is 100% effective at keeping you from dying from this virus.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, just like the other two, it's meant for adults 18 and over. Do we have any idea how long it could take or when children may be able to get a vaccine as well?

RON ELFENBEIN: So the Pfizer vaccine is actually indicated or authorized for 16 and up. But you're right, Johnson & Johnson is 18 and up. And there are ongoing trials right now with children to try to get it approved-- or excuse me-- authorized for use in children. So, you know, that process takes time. They have to amass a certain amount of data, which means a certain number of patients that both have to get the vaccine and have to get a placebo so they can do a head-to-head trial.

So it's going to take a while. Hopefully by-- by summer, we'll have that data, and we'll be able to kind of get these-- these vaccines authorized for use in children. And that's a very important point, because children are a large percentage of the population, and obviously those are the people that go to school. So, you know, we've got to get the kids vaccinated as well.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: People are becoming less hesitant about getting the vaccine, and yet a recent survey shows more than a third of Black Americans are still hesitant to get the shot. We've been asking others like you, Doctor, how this can be addressed. What do you think?

RON ELFENBEIN: Well, I think it's very concerning. And I think it's sad that-- you know, African Americans represent a fairly large number of the population at large. And as you said, that study showed that a third of them are not interested in getting the vaccine now. There is historical precedent for African Americans not trusting the medical community.

I mean, you have the Tuskegee Airmen and you had other things in the past that have happened that-- you know, that I think leave a bad taste in people's mouths. And you know, there's obviously precedent for that. But I really think that we just need to educate better, and we need to work through the socioeconomic issues that seem to be causing this-- this disparity here because, obviously, you know, I think they represent 25% or 26% of the population.

And that's a large amount of people that are-- are scared to get the vaccine. And again, not without-- not without reason. But-- and so I think we need to do a better job of educating them and working through their-- their issues that-- that are making this happen, making them feel that way.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: You know, we are seeing-- when we look at the numbers, we're seeing a drop in the number of hospitalizations. We're seeing a drop in newly reported cases, though those numbers appear to be sort of leveling off. So scientists are kind of warning, you know, just because we're seeing a drop in some of these numbers doesn't mean this is a good time to relax pandemic-related measures. But it seems like we're moving in the right direction. More people are being inoculated. So what factors would play a role in another coronavirus surge?

RON ELFENBEIN: Well, some of those factors are out of our control. And those would be things like these new variants that are popping up. So you have one actually was identified, I think, a week and a half ago in New York City. You have one in California. You have the UK variant, the B117 variant. You have the South African variant. You have the Brazilian variant.

So these are putting strains on the system. And you know, we know that the vaccines work against these, but not as well as they do against the traditional sort of coronavirus variant. And then, of course, you have, as you pointed out, people kind of relaxing-- you know, the states, most of them are opening up now, and people are relaxing and taking their masks off and not-- not necessarily being as vigilant as they had been in the past.

So those obviously are in our control. But again, that's what we need to focus on are the things that we can-- can do something about. The fact that there's variants out there, that's going to happen. That's natural. That's normal. That's to be expected. And that is totally out of our control.

The one thing I would say that the United States is doing a poor job of is sequencing the-- the positive samples, meaning that we know which variant is popping up where. We are sequencing less than 1% of our positive tests, whereas many other countries in the world are doing 20%, 30%, 40%, or 50% of their positive tests. They're sequencing so they know exactly which variant they're dealing with and how widespread it is.

The United States is just not focused on that, and I think that's to our disadvantage and detriment. I think we need to be focusing a little bit more on looking at that so we can plan a little bit better. But I think, overall, people just need to keep-- to stay vigilant, to do the things we've been talking about for the last year almost, wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands, and just being careful. The rest of it is stuff we can't control-- we can't control. So there's no point in even really worrying about it.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Wise words to live by. Dr. Ron Elfenbein, thank you very much.

RON ELFENBEIN: Thank you, guys. Stay safe.