COVID-19 update: Johnson County will get 3,300 doses of newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week

Johnson County Phase 3

Opportunities to get vaccinated in Johnson County have been expanding in recent weeks, including at this recent clinic hosted at a Price Chopper in Overland Park. This clinic received doses directly from the federal government, but Johnson County's allotment of vaccines from the state has grown to more than 8,000 in recent weeks. With a boost from the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, this week's allotment is expected to be even bigger. Photo credit Juliana Garcia.

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Sometime this week, Johnson County is expected to receive about 3,300 doses of the newly-authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Sanmi Areola, Ph.D., director of the county health department said. That will be on top of the county’s allotment of Pfizer vaccines it was already set to receive.

Unlike either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine —which received emergency use authorization from the FDA last week — is a single dose shot. It also does not require ultra-cold storage, like the other two vaccines.

Additionally, it’s not an mRNA vaccine. Instead, it’s what the CDC calls a “viral vector vaccine,” which means it works by introducing a harmless version of a similar virus — like influenza or adenovirus — to a person’s system in order to trigger an immune response to better combat SARS-CoV-2.

The approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is good news, Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said. But he said it’s not going to solve COVID-19 immediately.

For starters, supply of this vaccine is currently limited, meaning Kansas doesn’t expect another shipment of it until March 23.

County’s vaccine supply grows

Johnson County director of epidemiology Elizabeth Holzschuh said additional vaccines coming into the county — no matter what brand or type — is always good news.

“We don’t have enough vaccines to meet the need of everyone who wants it, so we are happy to take whatever we can get in our hands and we will be administering it as quickly as possible,” Holzschuh said. “If you have the opportunity to get a vaccine, get the vaccine.”

This vaccine is another tool in the fight against COVID-19, Norman said, and it doesn’t hurt that the overall supply of doses is improving, too.

When Phase 2 began, Norman said Kansas was receiving about 45,000 doses a week to be shared among the state’s 105 counties. Now, that supply has grown to about 145,000 a week.

That appears to be trickling down to the county level.

This week, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment says it expects to receive more vaccine doses than it has been, enabling more people to get vaccinated. In the final two weeks of February, the county received more than 8,000 doses from the state each week.

This week, JCDHE wrapped up its clinics aimed at people 80 years and older. Starting Wednesday, the county opened slots at its vaccine clinics for those 65 years and older.

This group, which Areola said is the largest single group that will require vaccinations, is the top priority for county clinics going forward. Some people in this age group have already been vaccinated through clinics run by local health system and retail pharmacies.

Here’s a look at the overall trends in Johnson County:

In Johnson County and across the Kansas City metro, new COVID-19 cases continue to trend downward.

Johnson County’s positivity rate fell from about 4.3% last week to 3.7% this week, the lowest it’s been since last summer.

As of Wednesday, March 3, data from JCDHE puts new cases per 100,000 residents at 136. That’s 19 fewer than the week before.

Last week, the Board of County Commissioners approved the removal of the midnight curfew on bars and restaurants but opted to leave other rules in place for the time being, including rules on masking in public, physical distancing requirements and limits on mass gatherings.

The current local health order is in effect through March 31.

‘Disturbing’ news about COVID-19 variants

Earlier this week, KDHE announced eight new cases of the COVID-19 variant first reported in the UK, all found in one family in Sedgwick County — that’s “disturbing” news, Norman said.

These new cases bring the total documented number of cases of the UK variant in Kansas to 10. This variant and others are believed to be more transmissible, though not necessarily more fatal.

“I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg for that region, and really, probably for the state,” Norman said.

KDHE is expanding its efforts to genomic sequence some viral samples, but it’s also growing efforts to detect variant fragments present in wastewater, Norman said.

This may help give a clearer picture of the spread of COVID-19 and variants beyond just normal diagnostic or asymptomatic testing.

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