It was just a fireside chat between “Jim” and “Tony.” Dr. James Hildreth of Meharry Medical College and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, referred to each other by their nicknames during Meharry’s virtual summit on health equity Wednesday night.
The discussion, “Health Integration, Innovation and Racial Justice: A Call to Action,” touched on vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans, the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts and the value of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for hard-to-reach groups.
Hildreth pressed Fauci on how the country would handle an emerging equity concern with the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine, which is nearing authorization. It’s one dose and less sensitive to temperature changes, making it a good candidate for reaching patients in non-traditional settings.
“How do we avoid having the perception take hold that the disadvantaged populations are getting an inferior vaccine?” Hildreth asked. “Because that would be the last thing we’d want to see happen.”
“That’s going to be a tough messaging problem, and that’s the reason why we’ve got to be very careful,” Fauci said. “I think the first thing we’ve got to do is get rid of the word ‘inferior.’ It is not an inferior vaccine. It is a really good vaccine.”
Fauci says the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not quite as good as Moderna’s or Pfizer’s in stopping infection entirely, but it is just as good or better in keeping people out of the hospital. He says if the choice is between a Johnson & Johnson vaccine today or the others in a month or two, “I would go for the one that I could get right now.”
Meharry is planning to turn these health equity summits into a series of events. The school’s prominence has risen amid the pandemic, with Dr. Hildreth — a renowned infectious disease expert, himself — being named to a White House task force last week.