Gov. Phil Murphy lamented a lackluster incoming supply of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, as worries mount that the New Brunswick-based pharmaceutical company would not be able to reach its self-imposed goal of 20 million doses by March 31.
This week, the state got over 10,000 doses of the J&J shot, according to New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli, followed by an expected 51,700 doses next week.
“It isn’t quite the quantum leap that we had anticipated, but it is certainly going in the right direction,” Murphy said at a daily COVID-19 press briefing on March 24.
J&J’s vaccine only requires a single dose, unlike the two-dose regimen spaced roughly a month apart for the versions made by drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna. And while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require storage in Arctic-level temperatures, J&J is shelf stable at refrigeration temperatures, making their transportation and handling far easier.
“I don’t want to pin it all on J&J, but the J&J supply is the big game-changer that allows us the flexibility,” like in lower-income communities, home-bound residents and other hard-to-reach segments of the population, Murphy said.
The vaccines are a vital component of permanently rolling back restrictions on businesses, travel and public gatherings, which have been in place this past year to keep the spread of the virus at bay.
But state and federal governments have flubbed their efforts and mass inoculations are sluggish at best. Demand far outstrips supply, and now public health officials are racing to build widespread immunity against the surging B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant first detected in the U.K.
Murphy has assured the state will have a surge of vaccine supply around Easter, which is on April 4.
“[H]opefully we are now entering the last week before our supplies begin to grow significantly,” the governor said.
So far, there are nearly 4.6 million J&J doses that have been shipped out across the country, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on March 23 that another 4 million doses are ready to ship out next week.
“Not quite as up as we had maybe hoped, but the feds are signaling that there’s going to be that quantum increase,” Murphy added.
President Joe Biden had promised there would be enough vaccine supplies available for every American adult by May 1, and a large enough return to pre-pandemic normalcy by the July 4 weekend. The state’s self-imposed goal calls for fully vaccinating 4.7 million New Jersey adults by June.
J&J officials could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. But the recent federal emergency approval of J&J’s use of Catalent’s Indiana facility for vaccine manufacturing has charged hopes that they can finally kickstart production.