J&J vaccine provides strong shield against acute COVID-19, prevents hospitalizations

February 1, 2021

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine has generated strong protection against acute COVID-19 in a large, late-stage trial—raising hopes that it can rapidly reshape a stumbling immunization campaign, Bloomberg reports.

In a study of more than 43,000 people, the vaccine prevented 66% of moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, according to a company statement released on Friday, January 29.

And it was particularly effective at stopping severe disease—preventing 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths.

“If you can prevent severe disease in a high percentage of individuals, that will alleviate so much of the stress and human suffering” of the pandemic, said Anthony Faucidirector of the National Institute of Allelrgy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the top U.S. infectious-disease official—at a briefing on the results with company and government officials.

Based on the result, J&J plans to file with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency-use authorization next week. The drug giant’s top scientist said this month he expects a clearance in March, and that it would have product ready to ship then.

The company didn’t specify how much of the vaccine would be available immediately, although it reaffirmed that the United States will receive 100 million doses by the end of June, Bloomberg said.

J&J’s vaccine is different from the messenger RNA-based shots made by Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech SE. It is based on an adenovirus, or cold germ that has been modified to make copies of the coronavirus spike protein—which the pathogen uses to force its way into cells. The altered virus can’t replicate in humans, but it triggers an immune response that prepares the body to defend itself against the coronavirus. J&J uses the same technology in a vaccine to fight Ebola.

J&J’s R&D head said the company’s trial, conducted at the height of the pandemic, had to deal with resistant variants that arose mainly after Moderna’s and Pfizer’s trials were finished. When counting cases, it also focused on somewhat sicker patients, Mammen said.

“If those vaccine programs accrued cases at the same time as us, when viral infections were so much higher, incidents were higher, and variants were all around us, they would have gotten different numbers,” he said. “The fact that we could do this level of efficacy with a single shot—people don’t have to come back for another, and it’s conveniently stored— well that makes this the vaccine of choice.”

At the outset of the pandemic, U.S. government officials said any vaccine showing greater than 50% efficacy would be considered a success.

Research contact: @Bloomberg

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