Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine is "absolutely" a game changer and will help ensure Americans are vaccinated at a faster pace, according to Dr. Sejal Hathi, physician and clinical fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“We should all be encouraged that we now have three excellent vaccines available to administer to Americans all across this country,” Hathi said. “I expect we'll be moving a lot faster with J&J on board.”
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) started shipping its COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning and is working to quickly scale up supply. To help aid in the effort, rival drugmaker Merck will assist Johnson & Johnson in ramping up production, according to reports citing a Biden administration official. Four million doses are expected to be distributed across the U.S. this week, followed by 100 million doses by June, and a billion worldwide by the end of the year.
“At the current rate of 1.7 million doses a day, it would still take until approximately Thanksgiving for us to achieve herd immunity, which is the level of immunity we need to stop transmission,” Hathi said. “But with Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine approved, things are really looking up.”
So far, 76.9 million doses have been administered across the U.S., with 50.7 million Americans receiving one dose and 25.4 million Americans receiving a second dose, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
The key to getting more people vaccinated in a timely manner will be convincing Americans that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is not an inferior option, according to Hathi.
J&J’s efficacy rate falls short compared to those of Pfizer (PFE) and Moderna (MRNA). Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine is 72% in preventing moderate-to-severe COVID-19 in the U.S., compared to Pfizer and Moderna’s efficacy rates of 95% and 94%, respectively, in preventing symptomatic disease.
[See also: J&J CEO: 'We're doing this for the long run]
But don’t let the headline numbers discourage you, as it is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was found to be 85% effective against severe COVID, similar to Moderna and Pfizer.
“The reality is that the most crucial measure that we must constantly look at is hospitalizations and deaths. On that front, the J&J vaccine measures up to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines," she said. "All three vaccines are excellent. All three I would recommend to my family, my friends and my patients.”
Now that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is approved, its next big challenge will be scaling production and distribution. Johnson & Johnson fell behind on manufacturing ahead of its emergency-use authorization this weekend, leaving only 4 million doses available for shipment this week. The original contract with the federal government was for 12 million doses by the end of February.
Despite production delays, Johnson & Johnson does have an edge over Pfizer and Moderna when it comes to distribution. One big advantage is that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator for up to three months, compared to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which must be stored at freezing temperatures.
“I think it's incredible news for all of us… There are many advantages to a single-shot vaccine that can be stored in much warmer temperatures,” said Hathi.
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