SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — More than 100,000 residents in Onondaga County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that New York is expanding eligibility to people aged 60 and older and public-facing employees.
He said the state is able to add more people to the list because of the new supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccines which are being distributed at the New York State Fairgrounds overnight from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
However, there’s a misconception that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not as effective because of its 66% efficacy rate compared to Pfizer and Moderna’s 95% and 94%. Dr. Stephen Thomas, the chief of infectious diseases at Upstate University Hospital, said it’s hard to compare the three vaccines because their trials were different.
“The Moderna and Pfizer trials, they looked at any COVID of any severity, whereas the J&J trial looked at moderate to severe COVID and then they also looked at hospitalizations and at death due to COVID,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the efficacy rate of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is actually 72% in the U.S. because the trials were conducted while there were emerging variants in South America and South Africa. Those variants are not as widespread in the U.S. yet.
This means that with the vaccine, you have a 72% chance that you won’t develop moderate or severe symptoms.
“You’re trying to prevent death. You’re trying to prevent hospitalization,” Thomas said. “You’re trying to prevent severe disease or trying to prevent even moderate disease because moderate disease is going to make people pretty uncomfortable and not be able to work.”
He explained that this efficacy rate is higher than the rate for the common flu shot, which was around 45% effective for the 2019-20 flu season.
“It’s still like 30 points higher than flu vaccines and flu vaccines have a really huge impact every year in this country in terms of the public health impact,” Thomas said. “So, these vaccines will make a big difference.”
In Central New York, the majority of the people who have received vaccines are white, according to Cuomo. He said the state needs to continue to make the shots more accessible to minority communities, and added that minority groups should trust the vaccine’s safety, despite the history of racism in American medicine trials.
“There’s no reason why anyone would be recommending this vaccine unless they believe it saves lives and has proof that it saves lives,” Cuomo said.
Thomas recommended that anyone who is hesitant about the vaccine’s safety should read about it in credible, nonbiased news sources. He also said it’s better to get a vaccine, no matter the name brand, than none at all.
“Explore it. Look into it,” Thomas said. “It could impact their health, the health of their family, the health of their community.”