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Summit County Health Commissioner: COVID-19 Vaccine Shelf Life Increasing

Kabir Bhatia
At Summit County Public Health, young people have preferred the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, since it's only one shot. Older patients prefer the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, according to Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.

The news that the FDA has extended the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s shelf life has surprised some, but Summit County’s top health official says it’s nothing to worry about.

Health Commissioner Donna Skoda says this is a common practice whenever there's a new drug or vaccine created. Part of the process is testing the length of efficacy.

“They assign a potential based vaccine expiration date. Then — as clinical trials are conducted, and as they continue to administer it, and they continue to give it to people and check for antibody response — they can then, with a certain degree of safety and confidence, recommend that it be extended,” Skoda said.

She adds that this same process also applies to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. As for whether this has affected a preference for certain vaccines, Skoda says no; young people tend to prefer the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while older people prefer Pfizer, which takes two shots.

The FDA extension increased Johnson & Johnson’s shelf life 3 months to 4.5 months.

Case counts and hospitalizations continue to fall in Summit County. Skoda says that could be a result of the COVID vaccine but also less testing for the disease.

"In the beginning, if you remember, we had not lot of testing available. So we were estimating that perhaps the case counts were much higher," she said. "Now, I think it's the people who are vaccinated may have really mild disease, if they do get it, so I think we're starting to see the effects of that vaccine. However, I do believe our numbers are down as well."

Skoda adds that even though all coronavirus indicators are down, the disease is still circulating. It may be more prevalent among young people, who often are asymptomatic.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.