The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson for a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, a move that drew praise from Virginia Tech public health expert Lisa M. Lee and Virginia hospitals and health systems as very good news for helping to slow the spread of the virus and preventing severe illness and deaths nationwide.
The availability of this new vaccine, combined with increased production by vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna, should result in a significant increase in federal distributions to the commonwealth. As many as 69,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected to arrive in Virginia this week.
In recent weeks, Virginia’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines has continued to increase as Pfizer and Moderna have ramped up manufacturing efforts and as federal regulators continue to evaluate administration and storage recommendations based on new data. Due to these factors, Virginia’s vaccine allocation from the federal government is estimated to have increased to as many as 250,000 doses per week.
With the FDA granting emergency authorization to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the expectation is that vaccine dose distribution to Virginia will continue to grow each week for the foreseeable future. Based on Johnson & Johnson’s pledge to deliver 20 million doses by the end of March, Virginia could receive as many as 500,000 additional doses in the coming weeks if the vaccine allocation formula continues to be based on population.
Because hospital and health systems across Virginia have already established community vaccination clinics and are supporting other vaccine efforts, they currently have the capacity to administer approximately 225,000 vaccine doses each week. Adding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to the existing supply chain will enable Virginia hospitals and health systems to maximize their capacity by working with the commonwealth to ensure additional vaccine doses are administered to Virginians as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Lee is a public health expert specializing in infectious disease epidemiology and public health ethics. She also serves as the associate vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech, where she leads the division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance. Lee has worked in public health and ethics at the local, state, and federal levels, including 14 years at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“The addition of a third COVID-19 vaccine substantially reduces the time it takes the U.S. to reach herd immunity, when a high enough proportion of the population is immunized and we can disrupt the spread of this disease,” said Lee about the approval of the third vaccine.
Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help ease the logistical challenges of shipping and storing by requiring only a simple one-dose shot.
“Getting 75-85% of the population vaccinated will be easier with this additional vaccine option, especially because it, unlike the first two, does not require a complex frozen or ultra-frozen transport and storage system and requires only one shot, instead of the two required by the others,” said Lee.
Lee said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown to be 85% efficacious in preventing serious disease, including death, and has efficacy against new variants.
“This is very good news,” Lee said. “Preliminary analyses indicate an additional benefit of its reducing the likelihood of viral transmission meaning that people who received the vaccine are protected both from getting sick and from getting infected with the virus. Given that so much spread happens from people who are infected but do not know it, this is a very promising finding.
“Stopping the spread of the virus is more important than ever,” the VT health expert said. “Not only because it will prevent severe illness and deaths, but because the more the virus is transmitted, the more likely it is to develop mutations that can make it more contagious and more lethal.
“We have already seen this in the new, more infectious variants that are now widespread in the U.S.,” Lee said. “New variants are likely to eventually evade the vaccines, so if we don’t stop this now, we will be dealing with COVID-19 restrictions on our lives for a very long time.”