The US just added another powerful weapon in the battle against COVID-19- a third vaccine.
The single-dose shot, from Johnson & Johnson, comes at critical time in this pandemic. Weeks of tumbling case numbers have plateaued raising concerns from top health experts that highly contagious variants are taking a stronger hold in the US.
“There’s a kind of new urgency to it,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Because there are new viral variants coming out right now, with some chance that some of them could eventually become somewhat resistant to the protection provided by vaccines, it’s really important to get it out there fast.”
About 3.9 million doses of the J&J vaccine will be distributed to states, tribes, territories, pharmacies and community health centers, a senior Biden administration official said Sunday night.
“Those J&J doses will be delivered as early as todays’ morning.” “As a one-dose vaccine, people do not have to return for a second dose to be protected,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
“In addition, this vaccine does not need to be kept in a freezer and can be stored at refrigerated temperatures. So it is easy to transport and store and allows for expanded availability in most community settings and mobile sites as supply scales up,” he added.
The other two vaccines being distributed -one from Pfizer-BioNTech and one from Moderna — both have efficacy rates of about 95%, with even greater protection against severe forms of disease.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown a 72% efficacy rate against mild to severe/critical disease among US trial participants. It’s more effective against severe forms of disease, with about 85% protection.
Health experts say Americans should not be deterred by J&J’s slightly lower numbers. Its vaccine was tested later than the other two vaccines, when infections were already surging and new variant strains were spreading more widely.
The J&J vaccine was also tested in South Africa when the troubling B.1.351 strain was dominant there, but it still gave strong protection against severe illness.
Health experts such as Dr Anthony Fauci have said they would be happy to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it were the only one available because all three vaccines getting distributed in the US are highly effective against severe COVID-19.