KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Johnson & Johnson's new one-dose COVID-19 vaccine could provide the shot in the arm the U.S. needs to improve its vaccination rate amid shortages of other vaccines.
The company announced Friday that its vaccine is 72% effective in preventing mild to moderate symptoms, based on U.S. clinical trials.
Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, which was developed in partnership with Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, is 66% effective overall, including clinical trial results from Latin America and South Africa, and 85% effective overall in preventing severe illness, which the study defined as hospitalization or death.
Doctors in the Kansas City area welcomed the news regarding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could receive FDA approval for distribution next month, as hospitals and clinics struggle with lack of supply of the FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna two-dose vaccines.
"Do you just give everybody one shot so you get as many doses in as many arms as possible?" University of Kansas Health System Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Stites asked rhetorically about the dilemma with the current vaccines and their supply.
It's a question KU Hospital and other health care providers across the region and county are wrestling with daily.
Stites and KU Health System's Medical Director of Infection Prevention Dr. Dana Hawkinson said vaccine production is going to make the difference.
In addition to requiring only one dose, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine also keeps longer in a refrigerator than other vaccines, making transportation easier, but the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are more effective, both at over 90%.
"I think that first dose of vaccine develops a specific immunity to coronavirus and that second booster dose really makes that immunity more robust, so that's the key," Hawkinson said.
Stites said it appears that current vaccines, including the Novavax vaccine being tested in the United Kingdom, are roughly 70% effective after the first dose and 90% with two shots.
While Johnson & Johnson's vaccine hasn't received federal approval yet in the U.S., the company said it has 7 million doses ready to go with plans to have another 30 million available by April and 100 million by the summer.
Johnson & Johnson expects to have 300 million doses available by the fall, but it and the Novavax vaccine have proven less effective against a new COVID-19 strain first detected in South Africa.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 57% effective the South African strain, according to the companies trial data, but that's still a good start and major step toward moving past the pandemic.
"If we can get above 50% for the global population, the U.S population, that's going to be a good thing," Hawkinson said. "And, of course, as the other vaccines are made available, we'll have more on that menu to give, especially to certain populations."
Johnson & Johnson said it's working to make its vaccine more effective against variants emerging across the globe.