Can you COVID ‘vaccine shop’ in New Jersey for a certain brand?
A year to the day of the first reported case of COVID-19 in the state, there are now three brands of vaccine in the fight against the most severe symptoms of the virus that has killed more than 21,000 New Jerseyans.
Stories of second-shot sensitivities or religious concerns have prompted questions about whether it's possible to hold out for any one of the brands.
As of Wednesday in the state, 2.19 million vaccines had been distributed, of which 53% have been Moderna and 47% Pfizer. So far, the Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson had not yet been administered in the state.
The shots are being administered by 300 vaccine sites, spanning a range of seven categories from county/municipal, mega-site, hospital, pharmacy, urgent care or medical practice, federally qualified health center or “other.”
“We have three potent vaccines here,” Gov. Phil Murphy said on Wednesday at the state pandemic response briefing, again repeating that trying to compare the effectiveness of the three brands is "an apples-to-oranges comparison of methodology" of when the vaccine studies were done.
The potential appeal of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine (officially branded Janssen) was noted at the same briefing by Health Department Medical Advisor Eddy Bresnitz.
However, as the first doses from Johnson & Johnson arrive during ahead of Easter, Catholic clergy have given fresh attention to the use of human cells in the vaccine’s development.
No fetal cells are contained in the vaccine, though the line of cells was initially harvested through abortions, sparking the same concerns that some have voiced during debates on religious exemptions from vaccines.
The Vatican issued an OK for anxious Catholics back in December, declaring that it was “morally acceptable” to receive COVID-19 vaccines, even if based on research that used fetal tissue from abortions.
Though there are three different vaccines being distributed in the U.S., “health authorities do not allow citizens to choose the vaccine with which to be inoculated,” the same statement noted.
While no regular resident eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine will get a choice the day of receiving it, it is possible to research the pattern of availability across the state, before attempting to book an appointment.
ShopRite has sorted its locations by brand of vaccine into two different lists and has its own online vaccine appointment scheduler (which is very similar to the queue for buying online groceries at the height of the pandemic last spring).
Moderna vaccine has been administered at the Kean University site in Union County and at multiple Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean County locations, according to shot recipients in January and February.
The vaccine mega-sites in Middlesex, Morris, Gloucester and Atlantic Counties all have administered Pfizer doses, within that same timespan.
The Bergen County mega-site has its doses administered by Hackensack Meridian Health, which has online guidelines for vaccine recipients including 16 and 17-year-olds.
Pfizer's vaccine has been authorized for ages 16 and up, while Moderna's vaccine is currently authorized for ages 18 and up.
CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens are part of the federal pharmacy program, which means their supply also comes separately from the federal government.
“Stores will only carry one vaccine or the other. We will be adding more administering locations to account for our increased vaccinating capacity,” according to the Rite Aid website.
The challenge remains trying to book an available vaccine appointment based on such patterns of supply.
Due to the process of federal shipments allocated to sites as well as pop-up, community-based programs, there is no guarantee that any one location would continue to receive the same brand, especially as demand far outpaces supply with more groups becoming eligible throughout March.
Murphy said Wednesday that he thinks vaccine supply will “explode” by April, with breakout supplies in April and May, assuming the “feds deliver.”
So, those with the necessity of time on their hands before becoming eligible for vaccination arguably might have the best chances at pinpointing a favored brand, before attempting to book an appointment to receive it.