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Pfizer vaccine is now FDA-approved for COVID, but you can still get Johnson & Johnson or Moderna shots

“We always knew it was really safe and effective,” said a pharmacist, “and now we’re actually seeing more people getting the vaccine.”

Thirty-seven vials of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are refrigerated before they will be administered to more than 230 patients receiving their second dose of the vaccine at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 may be the only one yet to receive FDA approval, but the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still available at Essentia Health, under the FDA’s emergency use authorization, said David Sperl, a pharmacist and the senior clinical pharmacy manager for acute care at Essentia Health.

Sperl Headshot (use).jpeg
David Sperl, senior clinical pharmacy manager for acute care at Essentia Health. (Submitted photo, Aug. 26, 2021)

All three vaccines are safe, available and effective against all COVID-19 variants, especially when it comes to preventing hospitalizations and deaths, Sperl said in an interview.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson may not have full FDA approval yet, but all three vaccines went through rigorous trials that were close to those required for full approval, he said.


“There’s really been no change to the availability, all three are still available,” Sperl said. “The FDA has been really mindful to make sure approval didn’t limit access in any way.”

Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes continues to offer both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. It has never offered the Moderna vaccine, Clinic Director Breanna Adams said in an email. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, spread out over several weeks, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one-shot process.

Full approval for the Pfizer vaccine has provided “a reassurance to some patients,” to take that step to protect themselves against COVID, Sperl said.

“We always knew it was really safe and effective,” he added, “and now we’re actually seeing more people getting the vaccine.” He said there is no shortage of the Pfizer vaccine locally.

Essentia has mandated that all its employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, but the deadline has not yet arrived, so it’s hard to tell what impact it will have on the workforce.

“Like a lot of organizations, we have a process in place to support employees as they work through the process,” Sperl said. “We’ve had a lot of good support from leadership.”

And requiring a vaccination is not new to health care organizations. “We’ve done it with other vaccinations in the past,” he said.

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is highly infectious and is being blamed for the mounting numbers of positive cases in the area. As of Thursday, Becker County, for example, had gone from 52 positive cases to 84 cases in a little over a week, according to the Becker County Public Health website.


At this point, there’s no evidence that any of the three vaccines are better or worse at preventing infection from the Delta variant.

“Data is still coming in on how the Delta variant impacts each vaccine,” Sperl said. “The Delta variant does have an impact on the covid vaccine, but there’s no data that one is better than another -- right now all have really high effectiveness,” in protecting against the worst effects of covid, he said.

That’s reassuring, he said, but since viruses are always changing, Earth’s population can’t really relax until most people are vaccinated.

“We're constantly in a race against the virus mutating internationally,” he said. “The faster we get people vaccinated, and the less reproduction (of the virus) there is, the fewer variants that will emerge over time,” he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health vaccine tracker website, 16,377 people in Becker County have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 15,433 fully vaccinated.

That’s out of an estimated 34,491 people living in the county, including kids under age 12 who aren’t yet eligible for the COVID vaccine.

People have different reasons for not getting vaccinated yet, Sperl said. “There are a lot of people with a lot of different concerns and life experiences,” he said. For those in doubt, family doctors, local pharmacists and the Essentia Health website are good sources of information about COVID and about the vaccines, he added.

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