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Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply to plummet next week in California as demand surges

A pharmacist draws a Johnson & Johnson inoculation.
Pharmacist Negin Sazgar draws a Johnson & Johnson inoculation at a vaccination site in Lincoln Park on Tuesday.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

California’s planned full reopening on June 15 is banking on millions more residents being vaccinated for COVID-19.

But recently released federal data are raising new questions as to whether supply will match expectations as the state prepares to make the shots available to all adults starting next week.

Although California’s allocations of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are expected to remain relatively steady through next week, the state — along with the rest of the nation — will see availability crater for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

This week, 574,900 Johnson & Johnson doses were allocated to the Golden State. Next week, that number will plummet to 67,600, an 88% drop, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

It’s unlikely that another coronavirus surge would overwhelm California’s hospital system, experts say

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The allocation is expected to fall even further the week of April 18, to 22,400 doses, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“To put this into perspective, the supply projections for the next two weeks are approximately what the state received in the second half of March,” department spokesman Darrel Ng wrote in an email Thursday.

This nosedive for Johnson & Johnson will drive down the size of the state’s federal allocation from the 2.4 million doses received this week, to 2 million next week and 1.9 million the week after that.

This would appear to fall far short of the rosier estimates shared two weeks ago, when the state announced plans to widely expand vaccine access — first to residents who are at least 50 years old, which happened last week; and then to all California residents 16 and older starting next Thursday.

Based on estimates at the time, officials said they expected California to be allocated approximately 2.5 million first and second doses per week in the first half of April, and more than 3 million doses in the second half of the month.

Long Beach becomes the latest jurisdiction to offer widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines, saying it will inoculate residents ages 16 and up.

However, as Ng pointed out, “there are multiple vaccine supply streams coming into the state.” The direct state allocation accounts for about 70% of the total, with the remainder flowing straight from the federal government to pharmacies, health centers and other qualified entities.

Any statewide shortfalls, however, will trickle down to the local level. Los Angeles County, for instance, will see its direct allocation of Johnson & Johnson fall from 118,000 doses this week to only 20,000 next.

“We really sort of live week to week with what we know about the allocations. We’ve not really gotten a longer time horizon,” Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the county Department of Public Health, said during a briefing Friday. “We do feel pretty confident, though, based on the messaging from the federal government and the Biden administration. I think a lot of effort has gone into vastly increasing the vaccine supply so, even if J&J is in short supply for several weeks or even a month, we’re hopeful that the supplies of Pfizer and Moderna will be sufficient.”

But with California gearing up to throw the doors wide open for vaccine access, Simon acknowledged that “there is that potential for a real rush, and we are expecting that to some degree.”

It’s unclear how long it will take to reverse the drop in supply. Regardless, Ng said California will expand eligibility as planned next week.

Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged earlier this week that supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine remained uncertain, but he said he was hopeful for more stability.

“We have lots of confidence in the medium run and long run,” he said, “meaning the short-term with J&J variability begins to give way to more confidence in May,” with the expectation that the vaccine “will substantially come in at a much higher and more predictable number.”

The availability — or lack thereof — of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine isn’t a problem only for California. Nationwide allocations are set to tumble from nearly 5 million this week to 700,000 next week.

Rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been inconsistent and dogged by production issues. Last week, the company said a batch of vaccine at a plant in Baltimore had failed quality standards and couldn’t be used. The drugmaker didn’t reveal how many doses were affected, though news reports pegged the number at 15 million.

Johnson & Johnson “is working closely with the FDA to resolve any manufacturing issues,” as well as “installing a new senior leadership team to oversee all aspects of production and manufacturing at the facility,” according to Jeff Zients, coordinator of President Biden’s COVID-19 task force.

“J&J is working with the FDA to get the Baltimore facility authorized,” he said during a briefing Friday. “During the period that they’re working with the FDA, and the Baltimore facility is not yet authorized, we expect a relatively low level of weekly doses distributed to states, tribes, territories and our federal channels. What the company has told us is, once they have authorization, that they will be able to have a weekly cadence at up to 8 million doses per week by the end of the month.”

Zients said he couldn’t speak to how long the FDA authorization process might take.

To date, providers throughout California have administered 21.2 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, and 35.7% of residents have received at least one shot, according to CDC data.

Roughly 19.2% of Californians are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve either received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or both required doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

Nationwide, 33.7% of Americans have received at least one dose, and 19.9% are fully vaccinated, CDC data show.

During the early phases of the vaccine rollout, California restricted access to the shots to those considered at highest risk from COVID-19, either because of their age, occupation or underlying health conditions.

Biden had initially said states should make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by May 1. But he announced a more aggressive timeline — setting a deadline of April 19.


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