Why some unvaccinated Albertans are looking for the Johnson & Johnson shot

Danielle Smith says Albertans should have access to the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine if they want it.

Federal government is looking for doses of the single-shot vaccine

Some Albertans are demanding access to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for faster access to full immunity - particularly now the province has adopted an opt-in vaccine passport system. (Christophe Gateau/dpa/The Associated Press)

Danielle Smith says Albertans should have access to the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine if they want it.

The columnist, past radio host and former leader of the Opposition for the Wildrose Party flew to Phoenix, Ariz., last week and got the one-dose inoculation.

"It was expensive, it was a nuisance, it was difficult to find," she said. "It took a lot of steps."

Last month, Smith started an online fundraiser to mount a legal challenge against the federal government to make more COVID-19 therapies available in Canada.

Now, she may get one of her wishes. The Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan governments have requested that Ottawa supply doses of the Johnson & Johnson immunization to the three provinces.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Friday her government is working on it, and has contacted other provinces and territories to see if they're interested.

COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca are already available in Canada. Health Canada approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but problems at a U.S. manufacturer prompted the government to return the doses received.

Rural MLAs and health-care workers, and municipal councillors in Alberta are telling the provincial government some unvaccinated people want that brand, according to premier Jason Kenney.

"This has become enough of a drumbeat of a request that we think the demand is real," he said Thursday.

Kenney initially said he asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for 20,000 doses, but later said Alberta has since joined Saskatchewan and B.C. to ask for a combined 50,000 doses.

The B.C. government has asked the federal government for access to the shot "multiple" times, a spokesperson for B.C.'s health minister says. They couldn't say how many times.

Columnist and past radio personality Danielle Smith says Canadians should have access to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, since it's approved for use in Canadian adults. (CBC)

Single shot offers shorter wait for full immunity

Smith wanted one shot because she's not great with needles, and because of Alberta's new opt-in proof of vaccination program.

The program started Sept. 20 for non-essential businesses and events. To operate free from capacity limits, they must ask patrons to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result from the previous 72 hours.

Using rapid test results was unworkable, Smith said. Not wanting to wait until she had two doses to be considered fully vaccinated, she sought out Johnson & Johnson.

Other people have told her they just want one shot, and some have misgivings about the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, she said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, however, has no scientific advantage over the others, said Craig Jenne, an associate professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary.

According to Health Canada, the single shot is 66 per cent effective in preventing someone from becoming ill with COVID-19. New trial data from Johnson & Johnson found two doses of the vaccine are 94 per cent effective at preventing disease.

It also carries a rare, but potentially life-threatening, risk of causing blood clots.

Expert recommendations may change to prescribe two doses, six-to-eight months apart, Jenne says. But if people are willing to take this shot, bring it on.

"This is a good strategy if we can get a significant number of people," he said.

Alberta has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Canada, and a surge of unvaccinated people infected with COVID-19 is overwhelming hospitals and intensive care units.

Kenney hopes a new vaccine option will sway some vaccine-holdouts.

"At the end of the day, if there are some people who've done their own research and concluded they will only take the J & J, that provides important protection, and we want to help to get that to them."


Janet French

Provincial affairs reporter

Janet French covers the Alberta Legislature for CBC Edmonton. She previously spent 15 years working at newspapers, including the Edmonton Journal and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. You can reach her at janet.french@cbc.ca.