Public Health

CDC director approves J & J’s one-time Covid vaccine

Illustration of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine

Given Ruvic | Reuters

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signed Johnson & Johnson’s one-off Covid-19 vaccine for those ages 18 and older on Sunday as the federal government prepares to ship millions of doses this week.

Walensky’s green light comes after a CDC advisory panel unanimously voted to recommend the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

“Today is an encouraging step towards an end to the # COVID19 pandemic,” wrote Walensky on Twitter. “I have now signed the recommendation of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) confirming the safety and effectiveness of Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 18 and over.”

The federal government can now begin shipping cans to locations across the country. The ACIP met in an emergency meeting to review the vaccine dates, which took place on Saturday became the third shot to receive emergency clearance from the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Richard Nettles, vice president of medical affairs at J&J, told lawmakers Tuesday that the company was ready to ship nearly 4 million doses once it receives emergency approval. He added that the company expects to have 20 million cans ready by the end of March.

The introduction of the J&J shot could be a boon to the U.S. vaccine supply. While the new vaccine showed signs of being less effective at preventing Covid-19 in clinical trials when compared to Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the J&J shot was 100% effective at preventing deaths and hospitalizations, caused by Covid-19 in clinical trials.

The level of protection of the J&J vaccine against Covid-19 in studies varied regionally, according to FDA documents released on Wednesday. About a month after inoculation, the shot showed 72% effectiveness in the US, 61% in Latin America and 64% in South Africa, where variant B.1.351 is spreading rapidly.

In particular, the FDA review found the vaccine was significantly less effective in people aged 60 and over who also had comorbidities like diabetes or heart disease. However, the agency found that the data was too sparse for any conclusions to be drawn.

In contrast, in clinical studies, Pfizer’s vaccine has been found to be 95% effective against Covid-19, while Moderna’s vaccine is around 94% effective. Infectious disease experts pointed out that J & J’s numbers cannot be used as a head-to-head comparison with the other two vaccines because it is a single dose and the company’s study was conducted when more infections, as well as new, more contagious variants occurred.

However, federal health officials have indicated that the one-off J&J regime offers unique logistical benefits that could make it ideal for hard-to-reach populations.

J & J’s vaccine “makes it easier to use in many contexts,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the CDC, told the Journal of the American Medical Association during a question and answer session Friday. “I suspect that much of the national health consideration given to these vaccines is more about the ease of use of the J&J vaccine and how it might be better suited to some populations.”

J&J has announced that it will ship the vaccine, which contains five doses per vial, at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. In comparison, Pfizer’s vaccine typically has to be stored in ultra-cold freezers, which are between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the FDA recently announced that it could be stored in pharmacies for up to two weeks at standard freezing temperatures. Moderna vaccine must be shipped at 13 to 5 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.

– CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace contributed to this report.

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