The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine over the weekend. The 4 million doses that the company has already manufactured began shipping on Monday.
The company’s CEO, Alex Gorsky, said on Monday that the vaccine could be in people’s arms within 24 to 48 hours. They expect to have distributed 100 million doses of the one-shot vaccine by June and a billion by the end of the year, Gorsky said on NBC.
Because the vaccine is a one-dose regimen, every dose shipped and injected means one more person inoculated against COVID-19.
In clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was less effective at preventing moderate to severe illness than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been in use in the U.S. However, part of the reason for that could be that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials were conducted later when there were more transmissible variants of the virus that weren’t as widespread when the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were being tested.
Moderna is currently testing its vaccine’s efficacy against the new variants, and along with Pfizer, is looking into using booster shots to protect against the variants. When looking at data for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine just in the U.S., where the variants are thought to be less prevalent, the efficacy of the three available vaccines are more similar than the results from an average of worldwide testing, health experts point out. All three companies are currently testing the vaccines on children.
The most important thing, experts say, is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death in the clinical trials.
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Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser on COVID-19, are encouraging people to get whatever vaccine is available to them and to not be choosy about which vaccine they receive. They emphasize that the most important thing right now for the fight against COVID-19 is getting more people vaccinated as soon as it is possible to do so.
“If you go to a place and you have J&J, and that’s the one that’s available now, I would take it,” Fauci said on NBC. “I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”
Public perception of the vaccine, however, may cause problems for government officials already grappling with issues of racial and social inequality in receiving a vaccine. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is much easier to transport and store than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, making it a better candidate to go to harder-to-reach areas of the U.S.
However, because its trials showed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less efficacious, communities receiving it over the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines might feel discriminated against. “J&J is going to be a challenge for all of us,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told The Washington Post. These officials emphasize a need for the government to communicate to the public that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe and effective, The Washington Post reports.
People who are skeptical about receiving the vaccine are also posing a challenge to government and health leaders who are trying to curb the spread of the virus and achieve herd immunity. Recent polls by the KFF Vaccine Monitor, however, show that the share of the population that is hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is shrinking as more and more people get the shots.
The percentage of people who say they refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19, however, has remained steady at about 15 percent, which could kill hopes for herd immunity in the U.S., depending on how many people need to be inoculated to achieve it.
The rates of vaccine administration have been steadily increasing over the past months. On average, the U.S. is administering 1.7 million doses a day, and 15 percent of the population has now been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.