HILLVIEW, Kentucky — FOCUS is going inside a local pharmacy to learn why they’re calling the new Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine revolutionary.
It’s a special day for My Pharmacy in Hillview, Kentucky. They’re getting their first batch of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine.
Pharmacy owner Rebecca Fletcher has just one regret.
“Next week I’ll definitely order up," she said. "So, it’s probably something I should have thought through better."
She ordered 100 doses, thinking it would take a week to get through. They got snatched up in just three hours.
“Is that surprising to you?” asked FOCUS investigative reporter Paula Vasan.
“Yes, it’s very surprising. I didn’t know there was such a need," said Fletcher, adding that she's getting about 30 calls an hour from people asking for the J&J vaccine.
Among the biggest differences of the J&J vaccine compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is the way it’s stored, said Fletcher. It goes into a fridge, instead of a temperature-specific freezer. And not only can the J&J vaccine be stored for longer -- up to three months -- it’s also one shot instead of two. Fletcher said that convenience is why her phones are ringing off the hook.
Steven O’Brien got one of the first appointments. He said he had been waiting for the J&J vaccine to be available because he wanted to be one and done.
“I suffer from Crohn's disease and my immune system is really bad and it’s hard for me to get out of the house," said O’Brien.
He said some days are so painful, he can’t leave his bed.
“It’s horrible," he said.
Many health experts believe the J&J vaccine will help people like O’Brien the most--people who can’t make two separate trips over the span of about a month to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. And since the J&J vaccine can be stored and transported more easily, Fletcher said she can take some doses directly to the homes of her most vulnerable patients.
“Those patients have a hard time even getting out of their house," she said.
According to the CDC, as of April 5, around 20% of the total population is fully vaccinated in Kentucky.
It's still a ways off from what experts estimate is needed to achieve herd immunity. That happens when enough people become immune to a disease to make its spread unlikely. The county’s top infectious disease expert, doctor Anthony Fauci, has said COVID-19 herd immunity might be reached if around 70% to 85% of people are immune.
“I also feel that there’s a lot of work to do still so I’m not throwing a party yet, but soon," said Fletcher.
But judging from the excitement over this J&J vaccine, she said she anticipates throwing that party sooner than she originally thought.
Fletcher said she believes the J&J vaccine will help us reach herd immunity and let us get back to normal faster.
And it’s that desperation for “normal”--whatever normal looks like after this pandemic--that makes Fletcher continue to work 12 hour days.
“I’m excited to get those people vaccinated," she said.
It’s why she had a baby in December and came right back to work two weeks later.
“I know it’s my responsibility and my duty to help the community," Fletcher said.
It’s why when she got COVID-19 while pregnant, she joined a research study to help others.
“I want to mingle with people. I want to mingle with my patients. I want to talk to people normally and back to the way it used to be," she said.
We reached out to Kentucky’s health department about how the J&J vaccine may impact when we achieve herd immunity. A spokesperson told us: "Johnson and Johnson’s (J&J) one-dose vaccine will help increase the rate at which individuals become fully vaccinated across the state, especially as J&J vaccine supply increases."
Infectious disease specialists we've interviewed said they predict a return to normal by around late summer, if we continue getting vaccinated and wearing masks out in public.
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