New York and New Jersey embrace arrival of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

One year has passed since the first COVID-19 case was identified in New York — a grim reminder of just how long this pandemic has been going on for. But on this milestone, there is some hope that an end is in sight. Nearly 4 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are now being shipped across the country. It will be a third powerful weapon in the fight against the virus. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is more confident than ever that 5 million New Yorkers will be vaccinated by June. This past Friday, the city vaccinated more than 76,000 people; that's the highest number of city vaccinations so far in a single day. 

On Monday, the mayor and the city's top doctors put their full support behind the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Dr. Jay Varma, the city's senior advisor for public health, stressed that this vaccine, which is about 72% effective against preventing COVID-19, is at a disadvantage compared to the other shots. That's because its trial was conducted later, after variants started to emerge. Pfizer and Moderna efficacy rates do not reflect the known variants.

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"The single most important message is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100% effective against people dying from COVID and it is almost 100% effective against people being hospitalized," Varma said. "It basically has the exact same effectiveness that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine do against people being hospitalized and dying, so if you want to prevent severe complications of COVID, which is what we all want for ourselves, take the first vaccine you have available because they all do exactly the same thing."

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that 2 million shots have been administered so far and that the Garden State is making a new group eligible for vaccines starting March 15. That group includes educators, daycare workers, transportation workers, homeless individuals and members of the state's tribal communities. Two weeks after that, on March 29, another group will become eligible, including grocery, hospitality and postal workers. Murphy also urged New Jersey residents to embrace the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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"The importance of having a third highly effective vaccine in our toolkit, especially one that only requires one dose and can be stored at regular refrigeration, cannot be overstated," Murphy said. "This is a game-changer in our fight to get more shots in our arms as with everything else we just need the supply."

RELATED: New Jersey expands vaccine eligibility

New Jersey is preparing to get about 70,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine starting this week, plus an additional 22,500 doses at CVS and Rite Aid locations. Murphy said he takes great pride in Johnson & Johnson, which is headquartered in the state. 

The governor also announced that New Jersey venues with 5,000 or more seats are now allowed to have crowds at 10% capacity indoors and at 15% capacity at outdoor venues.