For months, I watched South Carolina create its COVID Vaccine rollout. Then things changed dramatically this week.
South Carolina’s governor changed up the state’s plans making about half of the state eligible for the COVID vaccine starting Monday.
South Carolina created a multi-phase plan to determine the order it will vaccinate the population.
Phase 1A began in December. It included frontline health care workers, people over 70, and residents and staff members of long-term care facilities. The state’s health department decided they were the ones most vulnerable to COVID-19. So, naturally, they began with that group.
The state originally planned for Phase 1B to include law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers and daycare workers. It also included public transit workers, postal workers, grocery store employees and agricultural workers.
The plan called for Phase 1C to include people 65 and older and those with medical conditions that made them more vulnerable to COVID. Phase 1C also included an array of groups like food service, construction, finance, information technology, communications, energy, law, media and public safety.
The medical conditions that would earn those in Phase 1C a shot at a vaccine include diabetes and obesity. So I would qualify for Phase 1C through medical even if I didn’t qualify because I work in the media.
But Gov. Henry McMaster surprised some when he expanded Phase 1B to include all of those with the Phase 1C medical conditions. By the time Phase 1B is taken care of, he said, more than half the state’s population will have had the chance to get the COVID vaccine.
But which vaccine would you want?
There are currently three vaccines available. We’ve all heard about Pfizer and Moderna. They were the first two vaccines that became available. Over the weekend, the FDA approved an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (Some call it the Janssen vaccine, but Janssen is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.)
I definitely plan to get the vaccine. I have no reservations about it.
But I do wonder which vaccine — assuming I have a chance at making a choice — I would actually choose.
Doctors and state health departments consistently say you should take any vaccine that you can get. Their priority, of course, is getting as many people as possible protected from severe infection and hospitalization.
I searched to find a clear, definitive apples-to-apples comparison.
But I quickly learned that’s a tall order. The biggest reason, Stat News explains, is the three vaccine studies compared different timetables when determining vaccine efficacy. Researchers define it as the percentage reduction in a disease in people who received a vaccination in a clinical trial.
Efficacy is different from effectiveness, which describes how well a vaccine works when given to those outside of clinical trials.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses a few weeks apart. The J&J vaccine requires only one dose.
People who fear the flu-like symptoms some have reported shortly after receiving the second dose prefer the J&J option. My folks, who are both in their 70s, received the Pfizer vaccine and had no symptoms at all.
- Pfizer appears to be about 95% effective in the trials at preventing symptomatic COVID infection.
- Moderna appears to be about 94.1%, but the rate drops a bit among people 65+ with underlying conditions.
- J&J appears to be 66% protective against moderate to severe infections overall from 28 days after injection. That’s the global rate; the U.S. rate stands at about 72%.
But the three different COVID vaccine trials measured different benchmarks over different windows of time.
The Washington Post reports experts hope the lower number won’t discourage people from taking J&J’s vaccine. I’m afraid it will.
Given a choice, I’d probably pick Pfizer, especially since that’s the one I know my parents had.
The point is, we may not have that choice. At least not initially. We may reach a point at which there are enough doses that we can be picky.
But to get there, we have to wait that much longer without protection.
I’m not so sure that’s the smartest move.