CVS was one of the leaders in the COVID vaccine rollout back in December, when the company worked with long-term care facilities to start vaccinating the most vulnerable people in the U.S. By mid-February, CVS started vaccinating the general public and by April 1, they had doled out 10 million doses across 44 U.S. States. But now, a major change is afoot at CVS’s all over the U.S. in regards to the COVID vaccine.
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CVS Health is getting rid of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID vaccine in most of its locations, CNBC first reported on Aug. 4. Customers can still get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at almost 1,000 of the drug chain’s MinuteClinic locations in 25 states and Washington, D.C. But with more than 9,900 retail locations and around 1,100 MinuteClinics, this means the shot is only available in around 10 percent of CVS locations.
CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis told The Hill that all CVS retail locations will continue to offer either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. He added that this change had started “several weeks ago, and helps us manage our vaccine supply across the chain, both in our pharmacies and clinics.”
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The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was initially praised for its ability to provide protection against COVID with just one dose, but over the last few months, its reputation has been affected by production delays and rare, but serious side effects. In April, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended a 10-day pause on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” while it investigated a few rare, but serious blood-clotting events post-vaccination.
“I think the public hears that the vaccine is taken off the market for a period of time and it is just hard to get past that scarlet letter,” Paul Offit, MD, a scientist who has served on advisory panels for both the FDA and the CDC, told CNBC.
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Now, as new, highly contagious variants emerge—especially the Delta variant, which has already infected some vaccinated people—the overall effectiveness of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is also giving some people pause. (The vaccine’s efficacy in clinical trials was always lower than that of Pfizer and Moderna: 66.3 percent compared to the others’ 95 percent efficacy rate.)
Some doctors have suggested that Johnson & Johnson recipients should get a booster—and in San Francisco, one hospital has started offering patients who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a second shot of either Pfizer or Moderna as the Delta variant spreads.
Johnson & Johnson maintains that its vaccine is effective and safe, even against the Delta variant. In July, the manufacturer released data from its studies that show the single-shot “generated strong, persistent activity” against the new variant, and that its immune response lasted for at least eight months.
“We remain committed to helping end this deadly pandemic as quickly as possible. A single-shot vaccine that provides protection and prevents hospitalization and death is an important tool in the global fight against COVID-19,” Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to CNBC about CVS’s decision to get rid of the vaccine. “Evidence from our Phase 3 ENSEMBLE study demonstrates the efficacy of the J&J single-shot COVID-19 vaccine, including against viral variants that are highly prevalent. Regardless of race and ethnicity, age, geographic location and comorbidities, these results remain consistent.”
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