New Jersey hospital mandates boosters for J&J vaccine recipients

University Hospital workers who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be required to get a booster shot by Christmas Eve.

The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown to offer a lower level of protection against the novel coronavirus than the two-shot inoculations from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. The leaders of the 519-bed Newark, New Jersey-based state-owned academic medical center decided that employees who opted for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine need a stronger shield against the virus, University Hospital President and CEO Dr. Shereef Elnahal said.

“We really felt that we needed every one of our employees much closer to the 90%-plus effectiveness range and being protected against infection, so that we absolutely minimize the risk of nosocomial transmission,” Elnahal said. University Hospital employs 3,700 people, including 785 clinical staff members and almost 650 medical residents.

University Hospital announced a workplace vaccine mandate in June. Prior to the policy, about half of the staff were immunized; the share exceeded 90% by August, NJ Advance Media reported. Last month, the hospital fired a handful of employees who obtained fake vaccination cards and lied about their status.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed J&J boosters earlier this month. Johnson & Johnson submitted evidence to the agencies showing its vaccine is 94% effective when combined with a booster shot, which is roughly equivalent to the protection the Modern and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines provide. A single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 71% effective, compared to 93% for Moderna shots and 88% for Pfizer-BioNTech jabs, according to the CDC.

About 270 University Hospital chose the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and now must follow it up with an additional dose of any of the three vaccines available in the U.S., Elnahal said. Workers have until Dec. 24 to comply or face discipline. The hospital allows for medical and religious exemptions.

University Hospital enacted this directive after perceiving broad support from labor unions, state regulators and health experts, Elnahal said.

But New Jersey’s largest healthcare union wasn’t aware of University Hospital’s plans, said Debbie White, a registered nurse and president of Health Professionals and Allied Employees. The union will press the hospital for more information, she said.

“As a union, we will continue to advocate for our members to protect their rights and their health,” White said.

More than 15 million U.S. residents have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine according to the CDC. Both the FDA and CDC have OK’d Johnson & Johnson recipients getting booster shots of another COVID-9 vaccine.

University Hospital is holding off on requiring boosters for employees who chose Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech. The hospital is still gathering information about the effectiveness of those shots, Elnahal said.

“We are tracking breakthrough infections within our own employees by vaccine type,” Elnahal said. University Hospital will evaluate each vaccine separately, he said.