The United States now has three options to vaccinate its citizens as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Saturday.
The J&J vaccine joins the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines as weapons in the fight against COVID-19.
“The authorization of this vaccine expands the availability of vaccines, the best medical prevention method for COVID-19, to help us in the fight against this pandemic, which has claimed over half a million lives in the United States,” Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement.
The J&J vaccine can be stored in any commercial refrigeration unit and requires only one dose to be fully effective. The other two vaccines need specialized refrigerators capable of cooling to very low temperatures and require two shots about a month apart to be fully effective.
The green light by federal regulators was expected to trigger the shipment of 3.9 million doses as early as Monday, with some 800,000 of that expected to go directly to pharmacies.
Those numbers would grow weekly. And with shipments from other vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna, the expanded supply would eventually put the country on track to have enough vaccine on hand to immunize some 130 million adults by the end of March.
Officials caution, though, that it will take time to get shots in arms.
The vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been far more difficult than it needed to be. Leave it to the government to trivialize the momentous and complicate the obvious.
First, there was “equity” to consider. In order to get a life-saving shot, you had to be the right color or from the right neighborhood. Then the teachers started to interfere in the distribution, holding entire cities hostage in order to cut in the vaccine line ahead of people who were truly vulnerable to severe illness or death. The teacher’s unions maximized their clout to protect their members, forcing desperate parents and harried city officials to bend to their will.
It shouldn’t have been political. All that was necessary would have been to identify who was most at risk and stick a needle in their arms. No speeches about how unfair life is for some people. No moral posturing from politicians and activists. Just get people vaccinated as quickly as possible and keep the mickey-mouse to a minimum.
Still, the J&J vaccine will be a game-changer. It can be quickly shipped around the country and around the world and the one-shot regimen simplifies the process of inoculation immensely.
But like its competitors Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was considered highly effective at preventing serious illness. J&J found its vaccine was 85% effective at preventing severe illness and 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths 28 days after individuals were vaccinated.
The other good news is that J&J was tested in countries known to have potentially more dangerous variants, including Brazil and South Africa. The data found the vaccine worked against all variants at preventing severe disease.
On Wednesday, the company published a preliminary analysis suggesting its vaccine can help prevent asymptomatic infections, but the FDA concluded there is not yet enough data to say for sure.
Going forward, politicians will continue to impose restrictions on movement and gathering because of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus. A vaccine that can prevent the spread of COVID from asymptomatic people would be another game-changer. It would be one less excuse politicians can use to restrict our behavior.