On Friday, Johnson & Johnson announced its development of a single-shot COVID-19 vaccine that’s 66% effective at preventing symptomatic disease and 85% effective at protecting against severe illness. According to their announcement, approximately 100 million doses could be ready for distribution by June if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives it the green light.
This is especially significant given that the initial COVID-19 vaccines, which require two shots over the course of about a month, have complicated the distribution process and left many people waiting. A one-shot vaccine could be monumental for getting more people vaccinated sooner — and vaccinated completely, too. The FDA has established that it will consider any vaccine that is at least 50% effective, a threshold that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine exceeds.
If an emergency use authorization is given by the FDA, then people could start receiving the single-shot vaccine before the end of February. Despite the fact that it’s nearly 30% less effective than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, because of its single-shot administration and more convenient transportation and storage requirements, Mathai Mammen, M.D., Ph.D., the global head of Janssen Research & Development, calls it a "workhorse vaccine." One of the most important things it would do is prevent as many people from ending up in the hospital and overwhelming health care workers with patients — one of the biggest problems the United States has dealt with during the pandemic.
The single dose vaccine could also greatly benefit some of the most at-risk groups. Elderly people and disabled or chronically ill people who can’t get to health clinics more than once, incarcerated people, and unhoused people are some of many groups who could benefit from not having to wait for a second dose.
Adults with disabilities are more likely to have an underlying medical condition that puts them at increased risk. And COVID infections and deaths have been higher among disabled people, elderly people, houseless, and incarcerated people who have had fewer resources to properly prevent against disease. A one-shot vaccine would make it significantly simpler to administer to these communities who will already struggle to find the ability to get a first dose, let alone two. Increased hospital capacity will also create more access to health care for those who have been struggling with other underlying health issues during the pandemic but unable to get proper treatment. This eliminates at least one huge barrier for the most marginalized people.
"The potential to significantly reduce the burden of severe disease, by providing an effective and well-tolerated vaccine with just one immunization, is a critical component of the global public health response,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer of Johnson & Johnson in a press release. “A one-shot vaccine is considered by the World Health Organization to be the best option in pandemic settings, enhancing access, distribution and compliance."
Ultimately, the COVID-19 vaccine candidate demonstrated complete protection against COVID-related hospitalization and death within 28 days after vaccination. In addition, the vaccine also had a clear effect on COVID-19 cases that required hospitalization, ICU admission, mechanical ventilation, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). There were no reported cases among trial volunteers who had received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
The trial was originally launched in September and was conducted in the United States, South Africa, and Latin America — and while it wasn’t planned this way, these trial locations were some of the first countries where the new COVID-19 variants would soon emerge. Because this vaccine has been tested since the new variants, which are more infectious and potentially more dangerous, entered the country while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines haven’t, it could mean the Johnson & Johnson antidote might offer better protection. However, only time will tell.
Jen Psaki, the new White House Press Secretary, said in a briefing Friday morning that President Joe Biden is encouraged by the positive data released by Johnson & Johnson. Ultimately, President Biden says that “now is the time for the FDA to do its job evaluating the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”