Despite Alberta's pleas for single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, uptake is slow
'It took a long time to get this vaccine,' says co-lead of Alberta's vaccine task force
In a bid to raise vaccination rates among holdouts, doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine are now available in several provinces, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
But uptake of the single-dose option has been slow to start.
Earlier this month, Alberta received 5,000 doses of the J&J vaccine. In the first week of its campaign, 1,190 shots were administered in the province.
Part of the problem with uptake is likely the length of time it took to get the vaccine, said Dr. Cheri Nijssen-Jordan, co-lead of Alberta's Vaccine Task Force.
After the province implemented proof of vaccination at many businesses in September, many people who had been holding out got vaccinated with other vaccines, she said, so they could access services.
"We do find that people that want specialized vaccines, specialized treatments can be quite vocal.… It's hard to know the numbers that actually underlie that," she said.
As of Thursday, nearly 83 per cent of Albertans aged 12 or older had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Though Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in Canada since last March for adults aged 18 or older, none had been administered in the country because of a quality control issue.
Alberta's plea for the J&J vaccine came at the end of September, with Premier Jason Kenney saying some unvaccinated residents in rural Alberta were asking for that specific brand.
"What we're hearing is some of the vaccine-hesitant in those regions tell us they are willing to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but are hesitant for one reason or another about the mRNA [vaccines] and AstraZeneca," said Kenney at the time, asking the federal government for help in sourcing a supply.
The J&J shot is a viral vector vaccine, which may ease concerns for those with unfounded fears about newer mRNA vaccines. It is also a single-dose option and a person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after inoculation.
But booster shots for those vaccinated with J&J are still likely — and that could lower its appeal, said Dr. Noel Gibney, a professor emeritus of critical care medicine at the University of Alberta.
Currently, Health Canada has only approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for booster shots.
"The value is limited," Gibney said of the J&J option. "And at the end of the day, you're probably going to need to get either the Moderna or the Pfizer [vaccine] anyway."
He said, however, it is still worth it for someone to be vaccinated with J&J because of the protection it provides against severe illness and hospitalization. According to Health Canada, clinical trials showed that starting two weeks after vaccination with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson adenovirus vector vaccine, it was 66 per cent effective in protecting participants from COVID-19.
Nijssen-Jordan said it is always difficult to bring people in for boosters of any vaccines, but she is hopeful that those who receive the J&J shot will become more open to the idea.
"Hopefully, [with] the scientific evidence, some people will be paying attention and advising appropriately," she said.
Former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was among those pushing to bring the J&J vaccine to Alberta. In September, Smith flew to Phoenix, Ariz., to get the one-dose vaccine there, as it was not available in Canada at the time.
"It just seemed to make the most sense for me to have a single shot, so that I'd be able to get back to my life very quickly," she said.
Despite the slow start to the campaign, Alberta Health Services is expecting all 5,000 doses of the J&J vaccine to be in arms before Christmas.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan received 2,500 doses of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine, which it began administering Wednesday. B.C. received 5,000 doses, with the priority in that province going to health-care workers who have objected to being vaccinated with the other shots available to date.
Health Canada has also approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine for children aged five to 11, and doses are expected to begin arriving in the country on Sunday