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Detroit declined Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but may eventually administer it

Detroit — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Thursday his decision to turn down 6,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week didn't result in any Detroiters losing out on vaccination opportunities.He acknowledged the city would administer future shipments of the vaccine, should there be a need for it.

Duggan's willingness to accept the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a shift from Tuesday when he told reporters that Detroit didn't have plans to offer the vaccine and that it would best be used in rural areas. Two days later, Duggan told reporters the city would administer the one-dose vaccine, but says it will have enough of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for the foreseeable future.

The city declined the 6,200 doses because officials wanted to focus instead on vaccines that are "the best" in the market, Duggan said. 

"Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine, but Moderna and Pfizer are the best. I am going to do everything I can to make sure the residents of the city of Detroit get the best," Duggan said. 

The single-shot vaccine was 72% effective at preventing moderate illness in U.S. trials, a number that falls short of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have been shown to be about 95% effective after two doses.

However, in trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine completely prevented hospitalizations and deaths, including in South Africa against a more transmittable variant, and was 85% effective at protecting against severe cases of illness.

Duggan reiterated that he favors the two vaccines the city is already giving out. About one in 10 city residents have received at least one shot.

The digital marquee in front of the TCF Center in downtown Detroit promotes making an appointment for Detroiters to get vaccinated, Thursday, March 4, 2021, prior to Mayor Mike Duggan holding a briefing to detail the city's stance on the new Johnson and Johnson vaccine and expanded eligibility in Detroit for vaccines.

Although it's more complicated to administer two doses, it's worth the work, he said.

"Johnson & Johnson is a good vaccine," Duggan said. "70% of the time if you get it, you won't get COVID and if you're in the 30% that do, there's a very good chance it's mild and you won't be hospitalized. If you get two shots at Moderna and Pfizer, there's a 95% chance you won't get it and the 5% who do, there's a very good chance it's mild."

Detroit got 29,000 doses between its allotment of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines this week to cover all who signed up. Next week, Duggan said, the city is expecting 25,000 to 30,000 Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and it'll be enough "for every Detroiter who wants one." 

The city currently gives shots of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines at the TCF Center garage.

"In Detroit, we've got the finest vaccination infrastructure in the country. We can get you in and out quickly through TCF Center, and we could do it twice and be fully protected," Duggan told reporters on Tuesday.

Duggan said a separate site will be opened to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but added he doesn't have a specific date in mind.

"The day may come in March or April when every single Moderna and Pfizer is committed and we still have people who need a vaccine, and at that point we'll set up a Johnson & Johnson center," he said. "I don't see that in the next couple of weeks."

Duggan's spokesman John Roach said the city received assurance from the state's Department of Health and Human Services that Detroit's full allocation of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will continue, and that any doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be additional.

The Johnson & Johnson doses refused by Detroit were given to other health departments that had lower coverage rates for those aged 65 years or older, state health department spokesman Bob Wheaton said.

The CDC has not provided allocations for Johnson & Johnson for the next shipment, he said.

Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine gained emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration in recent days.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks at a press conference at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in Detroit on Feb. 11, 2021.

Michigan health officials said they were poised to receive the largest vaccine shipment yet this week, with nearly 500,000 doses, including 82,700 Johnson & Johnson shots. 

Duggan joined Thursday by Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair noted the city has now vaccinated 100,000 people.

"Administering 100,000 doses of this life-saving vaccine is a major accomplishment," Fair said. "What this means is that more lives are going to be saved."

About 11% of the city's residents older than 16 have had at least one shot as of Tuesday, according to the city's website. By comparison, 18.5% of Michigan residents older than 16 of the state have received at least one dose. Washtenaw County, at 21%, is slightly higher than the state average, and outer Wayne County, at 18%, and Macomb County, at 16.5% trail the statewide average.

Fair said the city's infection rate is low, around 3%, but she urged the public "to not let your guard down." 

The city also is expanding eligibility to Detroit residents ages 50 and up with chronic medical conditions. 

African Americans in Michigan are about twice as likely to not have received their two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than residents who are White, according to data the state has released. 

cferretti@detroitnews.com