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Health officials say trio of vaccines in use are all effective in fighting COVID-19

While clinical trials had different findings for the three vaccines being administered, health officials say all of them offer good protection from the coronavirus.

Vaccine supply from companies including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson is projected to surge in coming weeks, with enough for every American before June and millions coming beyond that. Dreamstime / TNS

BEMIDJI -- There are three types of vaccines being administered throughout the country to combat the coronavirus, and local health officials say all of them are trustworthy.

The vaccines have been made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and each has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. Since they've been made available, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been reported as being about 95% effective in clinical trials, while Johnson and Johnson's has been noted as 72% effective.

Based on when and how the trials were conducted, as well as new variants of the virus during the trials, comparing the vaccines is an apples to oranges situation. That's according to Dr. Colleen Swank, a pediatrician and vice president of clinic for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

"The best vaccine is the one you get in your arm," Swank said. "All three are safe and effective. The FDA was looking for something above 50% and all three do that. The most important thing is that the risk of being unprotected far outweighs the risk of getting the vaccine that you might think is less effective."

So far, based on shipments, Swank said Sanford locations in Bemidji and Bagley have only administered the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as it has not received the Johnson & Johnson version yet. As a result, it has provided two doses over a period of time for each person.


Swank said the first dose with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines works as a primer for a person's immune system, while the second acts as a booster.

"With Johnson & Johnson, they felt that they wanted to see what response they would get after one dose," Swank said. "Johnson & Johnson is doing trials right now, though, with a second dose. So, there is a possibility in the future that a second dose is recommended."

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As of March 17, in Bemidji and Bagley, Sanford has administered 13,289 vaccines, with 7,942 being first doses and 5,347 being second doses. Across the state as a whole, the Minnesota Department of Health shows 1.2 million residents have received at least one dose and 749,829 have completed their vaccination series.

Sanford started its vaccination efforts in mid-December, administering doses to its frontline staff first. It then began vaccinating members of the community 65 and older in mid-January.

Earlier this month, eligibility for the vaccine was expanded to essential workers, people with rare conditions or disabilities, additional age groups with underlying medical conditions and residents over the age of 50 in multi-generational housing.

Many Bemidji residents have also been able to receive vaccinations through Indian Health Services in Cass Lake on a first come, first served basis as they have extra doses come available.

RELATED: Cass Lake IHS health care workers among first in the state to receive COVID-19 vaccine, Sanford Bemidji receives vaccine shipment
"The way we move out of the pandemic is for the majority of the population to be vaccinated," Swank said. "If we can all be protected, it can be really hard for those newer strains to get in and start circulating among us."

While progress is being made on the vaccine front, Swank said it's still important to take the other COVID-19 precautions, too, as people locally continue contracting the virus.


"We are still having positives in the community," Swank said. "It's less than it was in November and December, but we did have 63 new positive cases in the last two weeks and we continue to have patients hospitalized. We had 11 patients in February and have five now in March. So we still need to be careful."

Since the pandemic arrived in Minnesota last March, Beltrami County has recorded more than 3,400 cases.

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