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Washington rural communities could benefit from one-shot vaccine, new storage rules

Farm and fishing workers would benefit from a vaccine that is effective after a single dose, such as the one by Johnson & Johnson, health officials said

SEATTLE — Washington is gearing up for the addition of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine to its COVID-19 fighting arsenal.

Advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended the emergency use approval of the single-dose vaccine, that can be stored and transported at typical refrigeration temperatures. It's 85% effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19.

All these factors make it the perfect option for some hard-to-reach communities, including those who are hesitant to the vaccine.

“It would be vastly easier if somebody is skeptical about taking the vaccine to convince them to take one dose that's effective in keeping them out of the ICU than two doses that are effective form keeping you out the ICU,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist at the University of Washington.

Other Washington communities are hard-to-reach because of the nature of their jobs. In Washington, many people work on fishing boats and spend months at sea in the waters of Alaska, and can’t come back for a second shot.

They’re on the Department of Health’s radar for those who should get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

But also on the list for this latest vaccine are rural communities that don’t have cold-chain capabilities like big cities do.

“It’s another tool in our tool kit. It’s going to allow us to be a lot more versatile in how we do outreach,” said Luke Davies, Health Administrator, Chelan-Douglas Health District.

While the state Department of Health waits on more guidelines from the FDA before figuring out where exactly to send the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when it arrives, many rural areas are planning for how to use it.

Davies told KING 5 the Chelan-Douglas County Health District plans to use mobile units to bring the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to remote areas, specifically for agricultural workers.

“When we protect our farmworkers, when we protect our abuelitas and abuelitos it really is an important aspect of our community here and our food supply line,” he said.

The FDA this week also made changes to the guidelines for the Pfizer vaccine.

It no longer needs to be stored in ultra-cold specialized freezers, while undiluted for up to two weeks at a time.

The Pfizer vaccine now can be stored in typical pharmaceutical freezers. This will increase access for many communities as well.

“The fact that the Pfizer vaccine can be stored outside of the ultra-cold storage and the addition of a new vaccine that can be stored at refrigerator temperatures will increase the number of providers who can administer COVID-19 vaccine. So, it’s really just a question of supply again,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Seattle-King County Public Health.

It's now up to the FDA whether to approve the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

If the FDA moves forward with the Emergency Use Authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Washington is set to get nearly 60,900 doses next week.