National City Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis was so excited for Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine, she enrolled in the company’s clinical trials in early March of last year.
She told NBC 7 she felt lucky to get the "one-and-done" shot, that the side effects were mild and that there was talk of the potential need for a booster shot even back then.
“I said if there is a booster that is needed, I will be ready,” she said. “You just tell me when and where."
She said she’s lost family and friends to COVID-19 and that getting the shot felt like a personal responsibility.
“It's about protecting our families, especially communities like ours that were hardest hit. If I'm going to ask my constituency to get the actual shot, I wanted to show up by example,” she said.
Mayor Sotelo-Solis is one of the roughly 14 million Americans the CDC says has gotten Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.
She said the company's report Wednesday that a second dose of its shot generated a "rapid and robust" antibody response hasn’t changed her opinion of it – if anything, it’s made her even more motivated to get another dose.
In a statement, the company said people who received a booster six to eight months after their initial J&J shots saw antibodies increase nine-fold higher than 28 days after the first shot, adding the new data comes from two Phase 2 studies of roughly 2,000 people conducted in the United States and Europe.
Many chose to get the J&J shot because of its one-and-done dosing, so it’s unclear how many people will be willing to get the booster if and when it is approved.
San Diego resident Roxana Becerril got her first, and what she thought would be her only dose of the J&J shot, less than two weeks ago after a family member tested positive for COVID-19 and she felt pressure after some businesses and venues started requiring proof of vaccination.
“I didn't want to get vaccinated in the first place,” she said. “If I had to go twice, that would have been more annoying so I just decided to go with [Johnson & Johnson].”
She told NBC 7 she’s confident that the one and only dose is enough to protect her – at least for right now.
“It would be nice to have that option of a booster,” she said. “But I'm very active, I exercise, I eat well, I use a face mask, I try to avoid big events and so I feel like I am protected. If I were someone, maybe in my mid 50s with diabetes or something, I would not feel as protected. I can't tell you right now if I'm going to want the dose in eight months or maybe in a year.”
J&J said it was in discussions with the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization among others about offering another dose of their Janssen vaccine.
The development comes as breakthrough cases of COVID-19 spread throughout the vaccinated community, with health experts attributing the cause to the more transmissible Delta variant and a waning immune response; J&J's statement Wednesday did not mention how the company’s booster protects against the Delta variant.
“The good news though is that the symptoms are very mild or perhaps nonexistent in some people” said San Diego otolaryngolist Dr. Paul Schalch Lepe. “But we also want to prevent continue spreading and infecting people, even people that are vaccinated, so we need to curtail that with the booster.”
A week ago, health officials announced plans to provide booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines starting in September, pending full FDA approval of Moderna’s vaccine. Pfizer received the green light Monday.
Health officials said they believed J&J recipients would need a booster shot as well, but were waiting for additional data before making any announcement.
Dr. Schalch Lepe said the J&J booster being approved after other companies’ vaccines shouldn’t raise any fear or doubt in those considering getting it, adding that the delay was expected because J&J’s shot was authorized at the end of February, more than two months after Moderna's and Pfizer's vaccines were authorized.
He said boosters for vaccinated people and getting vaccine holdouts to finally roll up their sleeves are the only ways to put the pandemic in the past.
“That's just the way it is,” he said. “That’s what it takes to reinforce immunity and prevent further infections.”
He said besides immunosuppressed people, who are more at risk of developing severe illness, he’s particularly concerned about the homeless and people in rural, hard to reach areas who will need booster shots.
He said he knows it’ll be a logistical challenge, but he hopes they will have equal access to boosters when they roll out.
The one-dose J&J shot has been a popular choice by health officials among these groups because of its simple dosing regimen and it’s much easier to transport and store compared to other vaccines.
“Everything gets recorded in a database and hopefully there’s a way to bring patients back to get vaccinated again,” Dr. Schalch Lepe said. “It presents constant logistical challenges…but the reality is we have to keep up with the virus and at this point, it seems like booster shots are the best way to go.”