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White House to distribute J&J vaccine evenly despite benefits for some vulnerable groups

Public health officials have said the single dose could make the J&J vaccine the best option for transient populations, like the homeless, migrant workers or those disconnected from the health care system.

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration won’t be targeting Johnson & Johnson’s newly authorized Covid-19 vaccine at any specific populations or regions despite the advantages it could provide to certain hard-to-reach groups because it doesn’t require a second dose or special refrigeration.

When planning the distribution of the J&J vaccine, the federal government will follow the same formula it has been with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines where the number of doses given is relative to that state’s populations, said Jeffrey Zients, White House’s coronavirus response coordinator. If a state appears to be shipping the J&J vaccine to one specific region or group over the other vaccines, Zients said the federal government would intervene.

“We are allocating the J&J vaccines the exact same way we are with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, proportional to a state tribe or territory’s population,” said Zients. The administration has “directed states to manage distribution of all three vaccines in a fair and equitable way.”

Because the J&J vaccines only require a single dose, as opposed to the double doses of the other two types, public health officials have said it could be the best option for transient populations, like the homeless, migrant workers or those disconnected from the health care system. It could also benefit rural areas because it doesn’t require a special type of refrigeration that some small health clinics lack. But health experts also warned there could be a perception that not all groups were being treated fairly.

The federal government plans to ship out nearly 4 million doses this week of the J&J vaccine, which received Emergency Use Authorization over the weekend. It expects to have 16 million doses by the end of the month with the majority of those coming in the second half of March.

The new vaccine comes as Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky gave another strong warning to states against rolling back Covid-19 restrictions as the decline in new cases appears to have plateaued at around 70,000 new cases and 2,000 deaths each day.

Walensky warned that with new variants spreading, the U.S. could see a fourth wave of infections if Americans don’t continue following social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

“We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”

She also said that guidelines will be coming from the CDC soon as to what behaviors those who have been vaccinated should follow. For now, she warned people who are vaccinated from fully letting their guard down when interacting with the broader population.

"I think we all need to keep our eye on the fact that we are not out of the woods yet," she said.