Why the Johnson and Johnson vaccine shouldn’t be viewed as second class

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California failed to center its vaccine rollout around equity, according to Manuel Pastor, the director of USC's Equity Research Institute and a member of Governor Gavin Newsom's COVID Recovery Task Force. But that’s changing, he says.

“Things that we should have done from the beginning — relying on community clinics, using mobile vaccine efforts, working with people in the community who can get the word out — those things are beginning to happen,” says Pastor.

Earlier this month, the state announced that 40% of California’s vaccine supply will go to its poorest residents. In LA, Pastor says those vaccines will go to South LA, the eastern San Fernando Valley, the Southeast cities, the San Gabriel Valley, and other places that score low in the California Healthy Places Index.

He says vaccine equity is good for California’s economy overall.

“First, if you make sure you're getting the vaccines into these low-income communities, you will be able to open up the county a little bit faster. Also, this is where the essential workers are, this is where the workforce is, and [we are] really beginning to rush the resources there.”

But as new vaccines hit the market, some people might prefer one brand over another. LA Times columnist Erika Smith saw this play out while volunteering at the Kedren Community Health Center in South LA. She calls it “brand shopping.”

“People are hearing their friends or relatives got one or the other, and had a good experience, and now they want the same thing,” she says. 

Some people view Johnson & Johnson as a “second class shot,” according to her latest column, due to its comparatively lower efficacy rating. Smith says that type of thinking is misinformed and dangerous to the state’s rollout.

“You can't really compare Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson [like] apples to apples,” she says. “The time frame in which Moderna and Pfizer were tested is different than Johnson & Johnson and also under different conditions.”

Instead of simply telling people to get the first vaccine that’s available to them, Smith says public health officials need to create strong messaging about why the vaccine trials vary.

In fact, Pastor and Smith agree that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help achieve greater equity since it’s only one-dose and doesn’t need to be kept at ultra-cold temperatures. 

“It actually is quite a good vaccine in terms of farm workers who are moving from county to county, hard-to-reach communities, homeless, etc,” says Pastor. 

Smith adds, “It's easier to take out into neighborhoods in trucks to people who are homebound, to people who cannot stand in line for hours, for people who don't have vehicles.”

Pastor says achieving greater equity will mean more phone calls, door knocking, and face-to-face connections rather than the internet. And more vaccines themselves, regardless of the brand.