CVS Health scales back locations offering J&J COVID-19 vaccine

CVS health has cut back on the number of locations offering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the company told FOX TV Stations on Thursday. 

According to a company spokesperson, the J&J shot was originally offered at more than 9,400 locations, in addition to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. 

Now, the single-dose J&J vaccine is only offered at around 1,000 MinuteClinic locations in 25 states and D.C.

The spokesperson said the move was implemented "several weeks ago," and was aimed at helping the company "manage our vaccine supply across the chain, both in our pharmacies and clinics." 

"Previously, each of our vaccinating pharmacies stocked one of the three vaccines, but we do not break out the number of pharmacies for each vaccine product. This change was implemented to help manage supply in an efficient way for both our pharmacies and our clinics," the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said the move was not related to recent reports that the J&J vaccine is not as effective against the delta variant, which has now become the most contagious mutation of the novel coronavirus in the pandemic so far. 

In an email to FOX TV Stations on Thursday, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said in response to CVS’ move, "We remain committed to helping end this deadly pandemic as quickly as possible. A single-shot vaccine that provides protection and prevents hospitalization and death is an important tool in the global fight against COVID-19."

The vaccine was originally praised by the medical community for being a single-dose shot, helping create a means to vaccinate people more efficiently as opposed to two-dose shots like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

"As a one-dose vaccine, people do not have to return for a second dose to be protected," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement of J&J’s shot when it was distributed throughout the U.S. in March. "In addition, this vaccine does not need to be kept in a freezer and can be stored at refrigerated temperatures – so it is easy to transport and store and allows for expanded availability in most community settings and mobile sites, as supply scales up."

But a study published on July 19 on the medical journal website BioRxiv found that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was significantly less effective against the highly transmissible delta and lambda variants compared with two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. 

Study authors found that while the two-dose vaccines were 94-95% effective in preventing COVID-19, the J&J vaccine had only 66.9% efficacy "in preventing moderate to severe disease."

The J&J vaccine had also been praised for being easier to handle, originally lasting three months in a refrigerator compared to the Pfizer and Moderna options, which must be frozen.

Last month, federal health regulators extended the expiration dates on Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, providing health workers with six more weeks to use millions of doses of the shot.

The Food and Drug Administration said in a letter to J&J that the shots remain safe and effective for at least six months when properly stored and refrigerated. It's the second time the FDA has extended the shelf life on the vaccines since June when the agency said they could be used for up to 4 1/2 months. When first authorized in February, the FDA said the vaccines could be stored for three months at normal refrigeration levels.

Vaccine expiration dates are based on information from drugmakers on how long the shots stay at the right strength. J&J previously stated that it continues to conduct stability testing with the aim of further extending the shelf life of the shots.

But rival drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna, which started shipping shots months earlier, have already supplied more than enough doses to vaccinate all eligible Americans. More than 150 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with the companies’ two-dose shots. By comparison, just 13 million Americans have been vaccinated with the J&J shot.

RELATED: Johnson & Johnson vaccine: CDC lifts suspension amid blood clot concerns

Use of J&J’s vaccine has been hurt by several rare potential side effects. Earlier this month, U.S. health regulators added a new warning to the vaccine about links to a potentially dangerous neurological reaction called Guillain-Barré syndrome.

That followed a pause in the use of the shot in April after it was linked to a rare blood clot disorder. In both cases, government health advisers said the overall benefits of the shot still greatly outweigh the risks.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.