With the arrival of more than 12,000 doses of the recently approved Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine, San Bernardino County continues its efforts to vaccinate those who are eligible, including launching a concentrated effort to inoculate the county’s homeless population.

The county’s first vaccination event specifically focused on unsheltered individuals was held Friday, March 12, at Mary’s Mercy Center in the city of San Bernardino. Doses of J&J have also gone to Loma Linda University Medical Center, Colorado River Medical Center in Needles and Mountains Community Hospital in Lake Arrowhead.

“Preventing transmission of the virus in congregate care facilities such as homeless shelters is extremely challenging, so vaccinating this population is a high priority for us,” said County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. “Fortunately, the new J&J vaccine offers us enormous advantages in this effort: it only requires a single dose, making it an ideal solution for inoculating hard-to-reach groups.”

The J&J vaccine differs from the other two approved vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) in that it only requires a single dose. Colorado River and Mountain Communities were selected because the single-dose nature of the J&J vaccine make it ideal for more-remote locations where ensuring timely second doses can be a challenge.

Hagman noted that county agencies and nonprofit organizations are collaborating to establish additional vaccination clinics specifically for homeless individuals.

New vaccine shown to be highly effective

Extensive studies have found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be highly efficacious. An analysis by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found it to be 100 percent effective at preventing death from the disease, 85 percent effective at preventing severe COVID-19 and 72 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease. (By comparison, an annual flu shot is typically 50-60 percent effective.)

The new vaccine was developed using a different technological approach than that employed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which used what is called “mRNA” technology. Essentially, mRNA is a little piece of genetic code the vaccines deliver to a patient’s cells. The code serves as an instruction manual for the individual’s immune system, teaching it to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19 and attack it, should it ever encounter the real thing.

The J&J vaccine, on the other hand, employs a more traditional virus-based technology that uses a disabled adenovirus to deliver the instructions. The adenovirus — which is not related to the coronavirus and will not give one a viral infection— can deliver instructions to the cells on how to defeat the coronavirus.

An advantage of the J&J vaccine is, unlike the first two vaccines, it can be stored at normal refrigerator temperature and does not spoil quickly.

“The new vaccine is not only effective, but also can be quickly and easily administered to county residents — including those living in widely dispersed rural communities,” said Hagman. “It will play an invaluable role in helping us reduce illness and getting our lives back to normal.”

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