Advisory Panel Recommends FDA Authorize Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

A panel of advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday voted in favor of authorizing Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, bringing it an important step closer to a U.S. rollout.

The FDA is likely to authorize the vaccine for emergency use within a day or so, making it the third available in the United States, and the only one that requires a single shot.

The panel consisting of doctors, infectious disease specialists and medical researchers voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks in people age 18 and over.

J&J has said it will be able to ship three million to four million doses of its vaccine next week if it receives the emergency use authorization (EUA), as expected.

NTD Photo
Vials with a sticker reading, “COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only” and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Johnson & Johnson logo in this illustration taken Oct. 31, 2020. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

Senior White House adviser Andy Slavitt announced on Twitter that the FDA would meet to finalize the EUA on Saturday.

More than 50 million vaccine shots have been administered nationwide.

Panel member Jay Portnoy, Professor of Pediatrics UMKC School of Medicine, said the race was on to stop the pandemic before new virus variants cause further disease.

“The fewer people who are infected with the virus, the less opportunity it has to emerge as a more virulent strain. So we’re in a hurry to get this vaccine out,” he said.

The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday expressed concern that a recent decline in U.S. COVID-19 cases may be stalling.

In a 44,000-person trial, the J&J vaccine overall was 66 percent effective at preventing moderate-to-severe cases of COVID-19 compared with a placebo.

Two-dose vaccines made by Pfizer Inc with BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc were about 95 percent effective in their pivotal trials. Experts cautioned against drawing too much of a distinction between the vaccines because the trials had somewhat different goals, and importantly, the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna studies were conducted before the more transmissible virus variants had emerged in South Africa, Brazil and the UK.

J&J’s trial was underway when the new variants were circulating and even prevalent in some countries where it was tested.

Still, its vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations 28 days after vaccination and there were no COVID-19 deaths among those who received the shot.

During the meeting, a J&J vaccine executive said the company was developing a second-generation vaccine that would target the concerning South African variant and will be ready to start Phase I trials by this summer.

The J&J vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerator temperatures, making distribution easier than for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots that use messenger RNA technology and have more stringent requirements on storage and transportation.

J&J’s vaccine uses a common cold virus known as adenovirus type 26 to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells in the body and trigger an immune response.

By Manas Mishra and Michael Erman