Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Arrives in Louisville
Today, Mayor Greg Fischer and Dr. SarahBeth Hartlage, Associate Medical Director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness addressed COVID cases declining in Louisville and the importance of following safety measures with COVID variants in the U.S. as the health department and its community partners work to vaccinate the community.
Louisville’s COVID cases declined for the eighth consecutive week placing the city at alert level orange for the first time since October with an incidence rate of 23.6 cases per 100,000 population. The news comes after the announcement of the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Kentucky on Monday.
“After almost a year of being on the defense, we have three ways to play offense against COVID-19,” Mayor Fischer said. “We’re seeing the virus do what viruses do by mutating in different ways. Just as COVID-19 is evolving, the way we’re fighting it needs to evolve as well and the more tools we have the better.”
Mayor Fischer said that while not everyone is eligible for the vaccine yet, the opportunity to get the shot will come in the next few weeks as vaccine supply increases to which he emphasized that the vaccine is critical to reopening Louisville’s economy when residents can return to normalcy.
Here are the key COVID-19 data metrics for the week of March 2, 2021:
- There were 1,269 new cases over the previous week.
- Hospitalization data:
- 9.7% of patients currently hospitalized have COVID-19.
- 39 patients in ICU with COVID-19 as of March 2, a decrease from 57 the week prior.
- 22 COVID-19 patients on ventilators as of March 2, compared to 36 last week.
- COVID-19 cases remain in every ZIP code
- 208,768 total vaccine doses given in Metro Louisville since December.
- 15.7% of Louisville residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and 8.4% have completed the vaccine series
With cases trending downward, Dr. Hartlage said now isn’t the time to get lackadaisical in our safety efforts as she urged residents to continue wearing masks, practicing social distancing and washing hands as often as possible. Speaking further, Dr. Hartlage encouraged residents to get tested at least once a week. She said testing rates locally are down and testing helps to track COVID in the community and identify areas where it’s prevalent.
“If you’re leaving your house for any reason to go to work, the grocery store, traveling or anything else continue to get tested on a regular basis,” Dr. Hartlage said. “As long as we have cases, we’ll continue to have hospitalized patients and patients at risk of dying from this disease. Every one of these patients is somebody’s husband, mother, family member or loved one. We need to keep up our defenses.”
COVID Variants and How to Protect Against Them
During Tuesday’s briefing, Dr. Mark Burns, Infectious Disease Specialist and Associate Professor with the University of Louisville School of Medicine, discussed the arrival of COVID variants in the U.S. and internationally and the cause of them. He said that over time, viruses are expected to mutate, and COVID is no exception with its variants.
Dr. Burns said that while thousands of mutations can occur with COVID and other viruses, they usually have little impact or don’t survive. Other times, mutations can become elusive and evasive to clinical techniques used to control them. Some of the notably COVID variants are:
- B.1.1.7, emerged in the United Kingdom. Reported in the U.S. at the end of December 2020. First case was reported in Jefferson County on Monday, February 8, 2021.
- B.1.351, emerged in South Africa independent of B.1.1.7. Reported in the U.S. at the end of January 2021. Shares some mutations with B.1.1.7
- P1, first identified in four travelers from Brazil tested during routine screening at Haneda airport outside Tokyo, Japan. Has 17 unique mutations. Detected in the U.S. at the end of January 2021.
Answering questions about the effectiveness of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dr. Burns said that each of the vaccines has shown efficacy against COVID. Pfizer and Moderna initially showed 95 and 94.5 percent efficacy with Johnson and Johnson having an efficacy of 72 percent in the U.S. and an overall efficacy of 85 percent against the COVID variants and severe disease.
Co-Immunity Wastewater Variant Monitoring
Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, Director of the Christina Lee Brown Environme Institute at the University of Louisville, joined the Mayor to present the latest research from the fourth round of the Co-Immunity Project’s Wastewater study.
From February 6 to February 11, a random scientific study of serum and bodily fluids sampling, Dr. Bhatnagar said researchers discovered that roughly 18 percent of Louisville’s population previously had COVID. He said they found a majority of these results in Shively and the Eastern part of Louisville.
Dr. Bhatnagar reported that on February 2, a Southwest Louisville wastewater sample revealed mutations consistent with the presence of B.1.429, known as the California variant. He said they do not know how widespread or significant the levels of the variant are and that they will continue to study its prevalence in the community. He also emphasized the importance of continuing to be diligent with all the prevention measures that work to stop the spread of the virus, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and handwashing.
COVID-19 Vaccines Equally Effective
Dr. Paul McKinney, professor and Associate Dean for Research at the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences provided details on Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials and the safety of the vaccine in protecting those who receive it. He said that the 44,000 people involved in the vaccine trials were comparable to the population size in the Moderna and Pfizer trials.
Key differences with the Johnson & Johnson trials are that its trials began later in the pandemic and at a time when COVID variants became more prominent. Dr. McKinney, who also serves on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said the vaccine was also studied in different populations.
“There was about 40 percent of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine population that was in South America and 15 percent were in Africa, in the South Africa region,” Dr. McKinney said. “The variants were prominent among the population study and for that reason the experts are telling us not to compare the results to the Pfizer and Moderna studies because it’s entirely different.”
Dr. McKinney said that the results from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials were for its efficacy against moderate, severe and critical COVID-19 complications that included illness, hospitalizations and death. He said some of the numbers are based on a 14- or 28-day measurement after immunization.
“If you look at the data very carefully, there’s a maturity of the immune response,” Dr. McKinney said. “It starts out pretty good and matures further after 28 days. It even goes beyond that to 56 days where you get some additional benefit as that immune response is building up. You’ll still be susceptible to some degree to infection, and you should continue to use protection like wearing masks, social distancing for the foreseeable future until we know exactly where we’re headed in terms of population-based immunity.”
Speaking further, Dr. McKinney emphasized that while there are three vaccines available, none of them should be viewed as more favorable than the other and people should feel comfortable with them as they are all highly effective against serious illness, hospitalization and death.
“These are equivalent vaccines in terms of essential efficacy,” Dr. McKinney said. “Nobody should shop around or wait for one particular vaccine. Get whatever vaccine is available now because you and the population will benefit significantly if we get a vast number of people immunized very quickly.”
First Responder Data
Currently, 18 members of LMPD, Louisville Fire, Metro EMS, Metro Corrections and the Sheriff’s Office are off-duty due to COVID-19:
- 6 are off with positive tests and in self-isolation
- 9 are off and quarantined due to exposure to someone who tested positive
- 3 are off with symptoms, pending test results
Positive test numbers for first responders/public safety since the incident began:
- 547 positive tests
- 541 have fully recovered and returned to duty
Metro Corrections inmate data:
Total Tested: 6,279
Total Positive: 405
Total Recovered: 396
Total currently under medical isolation: 9
Total tests pending: 0
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To view the entire COVID-19 weekly update with Public Health officials click here. The city’s COVID-19 data dashboard, a complete list of COVID-19 testing sites, vaccine information, prevention and contact tracing can be found at www.louisville.gov/covid19. The LOU HEALTH COVID19 Helpline is also available: 502-912-8598.