The city of Detroit declined its alloted Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses this week, and Mayor Mike Duggan doubled down Thursday on his reasoning for sticking with the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer.
“Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best,” Duggan said in a news conference. “And I am going to do everything I can to make sure that residents of the city of Detroit get the best.”
Detroit would have received 6,200 of the J&J one-shot doses, but declined to do so and did not get more Moderna and Pfizer doses to make up for it, according to Bob Wheaton, public information officer in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. They went to “other health departments that had lower coverage rates for those age 65 years or older,” Wheaton wrote in an email.
Detroit got 17,000 first Moderna and Pfizer doses and 12,000 second doses this week for a total of 29,000. That’s up from 15,000 a week at the start of February. Duggan expects to get 25,000-30,000 more next week.
“I believe we will have a Moderna and Pfizer vaccine for every Detroiter who wants one. The day may come when we have more Detroiters asking for vaccines than we have Moderna, Pfizer, in which case we’ll set up a Johnson & Johnson site … I don’t see that in the next couple weeks,” he said. “I’d say for the foreseeable future, I feel confident that we will have a Moderna and Pfizer vaccine for everyone who wants to get vaccinated.”
The Detroit Free Press first reported that Detroit had rejected J&J doses.
Compared with the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J vaccine is less resource-intensive to distribute and administer. It can be stored for months at refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen, and doesn’t require patients to return for a second dose three or four weeks later. That is a positive sign to officials who expect to accelerate vaccine administration across the country.
However, Duggan said the city’s vaccine administration system runs smoothly handling two types of two-dose vaccines in one big site at the TCF Center garage downtown. He added that he thinks it’s “worth it” for the added protection to do the extra work.
Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall the J&J vaccine is about 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85 percent effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s vaccine is safe. The other two are 95 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19.
“CDC has recommended its use for all adults age 18 or over,” MDHHS spokesman Wheaton wrote in an email. “All immunizing providers who can manage vaccine storage and management for a vaccine are expected to accept vaccine.
“The Johnson and Johnson vaccines were distributed to local health departments and some hospitals this week so that all doses were allocated on top of the Moderna and Pfizer distribution. The city of Detroit allocation of Johnson and Johnson vaccine was 6,200. They did not receive additional Moderna or Pfizer vaccine to replace the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.”
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told the Associated Press that evidence shows no reason to favor one vaccine over another.
“What people I think are mostly interested in is, is it going to keep me from getting really sick?” Collins told the AP. “Will it keep me from dying from this terrible disease? The good news is all of these say yes to that.”
Detroit has gotten national recognition for its efficiency testing and vaccinating residents through mass sites.
However, the city still lags surrounding counties and the state as a whole when it comes to total percent of adults immunized. Of Detroit adults, 11 percent have been vaccinated so far. For Macomb County, the figure is 16.5 percent; 19.1 percent for Oakland County; 18.6 percent for outer Wayne County, and 18.5 percent for Michigan as a whole.
Nearly 251,000 vaccines have been distributed in Detroit as of Wednesday, with nearly 130,000 of those going to the city government, according to state and local data. Others go to private providers, including heath care systems.
The federal government announced this week that it was increasing supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to states next week to 15.2 million doses per week, up from 14.5 million previously. States were also to receive 2.8 million doses of the J&J shot this week.
New Thursday, the TCF Center garage vaccination site is now allowing any Detroit resident with underlying conditions ages 50 and older to schedule appointments by calling (313) 230-0505. Other eligible groups include food, manufacturing and health care workers. More details are on the city’s website.
Duggan said Thursday he believes is Detroit is the only city in the U.S. in which grocery workers and those in manufacturing who live and/or work in the city can be vaccinated.
The state on Wednesday announced it is expanding eligibility to people 50 years old and up with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions and caregivers of children with special health care needs starting March 8. Detroit is doing the same.
On March 22, any Michigan resident age 50 and older will be able to get one of the three vaccines available, Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy said.
Detroit also marked a milestone Thursday, administering its 100,000th vaccine dose. Around two-thirds of those have gone to Detroiters and the other third to non-Detroiters who work in the city, Duggan estimated Thursday.
The drive-through site has gone from a couple hundred then 1,000 appointments a day to 4,500 Thursday. The most it can handle is 5,000.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.