Nevadans who are 55 and older with underlying health conditions may soon be able to get a COVID-19 vaccination.
The announcement was made Friday by Governor Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 task force. The state is working with pharmacy partners throughout the state to make it a reality.
In southern Nevada, a shift is being made to allow people in the food service and hospitality industry to get vaccinated. In northern Nevada, however, the focus will remain on vaccinating people who work in manufacturing, transport, distribution and the sale of essential items–within the “Frontline/Essential Workforce” prioritization lane.
Caleb Cage, Nevada’s COVID-19 response director, said this decision was made because northern Nevada has more people employed in these fields than does southern Nevada.
Pfizer v. Moderna v. Janssen
On Friday, Cage was joined by Dr. Mark Riddle, associate dean of clinical research at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, for a briefing with the media. Riddle is an active consultant to the World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on enteric vaccines and the site principal investigator for the Janssen/J & J COVID-19 vaccine study at the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System in Reno.
Riddle joined Cage to discuss differences between the three emergency approved vaccines—Janssen, Pfizer and Moderna—explaining that each of them is effective. He also stressed, like other health experts, that people should accept whichever among the three is available when they become eligible to be vaccinated.
While Moderna and Pfizer are both MRNA vaccines, the Janssen vaccine is an adenovirus vectored vaccine. Understanding the difference between them can be difficult.
Matt Koci, a virologist and immunologist who serves as a professor in North Carolina State’s department of poultry science, provided a brief and simple explanation in a December 2020 Futurity article:
“Like the mRNA vaccines, the main idea behind adenovirus vaccines is to get genetic material that encodes SARS-CoV-2 genes into your cells and get your cells to make the virus proteins,” he said. “The difference is in how they do this. Where the mRNA vaccine is just the mRNA protected by a chemical shell, adenovirus vectored vaccines use a virus we know is harmless to act as a Trojan horse. But instead of hiding Greek soldiers, or anything dangerous, the adenovirus releases genes that encode the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.”
Riddle said to think of the virus as a key in a lock represented by human cells and the vaccines as a mechanism that—by getting people’s immune systems to create antibodies—gums up the lock, preventing the key from fitting into it.
Speaking to the reported efficacy of the vaccines, Riddle said it is difficult to make head-to-head comparisons of them. He stressed that both Pfizer and Moderna were in trials when disease spread within communities may have been happening at lower rates—and new variants of COVID-19 were not as prevalent. He said that were Pfizer or Moderna in trials at the same time as the Janssen vaccine, they may have reported similar efficacy levels as Janssen’s.
While the Janssen vaccine has been reported as having only 72% efficacy in preventing moderate disease and 85% efficacy against severe disease, it’s worth noting that the vaccine has been 100% effective against hospitalization and death.
“The bottom line is that getting any one of these vaccines is good, and they’re equivalent in terms of protecting you,” Riddle said.
There is also some evidence that the Janssen vaccine may protect against asymptomatic colonization of the virus—meaning that, in phase-three testing, it has appeared to prevent people from having a build-up of the virus in their noses. So, it may help to keep vaccinated people from spreading the disease to those who’ve yet to be inoculated.
Cage stressed that health officials are still discouraging people from shopping around for a particular vaccine—something the Nevada Department of Health and Human Service’s Candice McDaniel echoed.
McDaniel said when the supply of vaccines outweighs the demand, there may be some choice, but “please just get vaccinated now. We have these amazing products.”
Riddle added that COVID-19 variants are of concern, and vaccine shopping that delays mass vaccination efforts may facilitate their spread. “The virus is trying to escape the counter measures we’re doing,” Riddle said.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.