Over the weekend, the FDA approved a third COVID-19 vaccine. The single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe disease, promises to boost inoculation rates in Mountain West states, including rural areas.
“It will allow some much-needed flexibility in our vaccine rollout because it doesn’t require ultra-cold storage,” a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said in a statement. “And it will also increase Idaho's allocation of vaccine, which is desperately needed. We are encouraged by the data from the trials – it seems to have a very high ability to keep people from getting seriously ill and out of the hospital.”
Vaccination rates vary widely among states. In New Mexico, 21.8% of the population has received at least one dose, which trails only Alaska, according to CDC data tracked by NPR. Utah and Idaho rank near the bottom, with rates of 12.2% and 14.2%, respectively.
Christine Porter, a public health researcher at the University of Wyoming, says the discrepancy among states is largely a function of the country's underfunded public health system.
“There's not really a federal plan for how vaccines are going to be distributed. Each state was left with its own devices, and it was a question then of how prepared each state was to invent their own system,” Porter said.
Josh Sharfstein, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says the uncoordinated vaccine rollout reflects the stress and confusion around the country's public health response to COVID-19.
“All the chaos that existed around testing we're now seeing again with vaccination in many places,” Sharfstein said. Johnson & Johnson has already begun shipping nearly 4 million doses, U.S. officials said Monday.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.