By STEPHANIE EBBS and ANNE FLAHERTY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — The nation’s third vaccine against COVID-19 is up for review Friday by an independent advisory panel of infectious disease experts, doctors and scientists.
It’s a critical step in determining whether Americans will get access to the vaccine. A recommendation by the panel would pave the way for official authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If that happens, some 4 million doses would be expected to start shipping as early as Monday.
“If the FDA (authorizes) the use of this new vaccine, we would plan to roll out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make the vaccine,” President Joe Biden said Thursday.
Here’s what to know:
The vaccine requires only one shot, with 20 million doses due before April.
Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, the vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, only requires one shot for the recipient to be considered fully immunized. The vaccine also can be stored in a refrigerator, making it relatively easy to handle.
While 4 million doses would ship out initially, the company says it’s on track to produce 20 million doses by the end of March. Along with Pfizer and Moderna doses, that means the U.S. would have enough vaccine doeses for 130 million adults — about half the adult population — to be vaccinated.
By the end of June, J&J is expected to have produced 100 million vaccine doses. That would put the U.S. in a position of having a surplus by mid-summer, when Pfizer and Moderna are expected to have delivered enough vaccine to immunize 300 million people.
Officials caution, though, that it will take time to get shots in arms.
The J&J vaccine is for adults only, at least initially.
Vaccine makers are looking at whether their products would be safe and effective in children, but that will take some time. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, predicts vaccines could be offered to teens as early as fall and younger children in early 2022 after clinical trials are done.
For now, since J&J’s clinical trial involving more than 40,000 people looked only at adults, the vaccine would be restricted to people 18 and older. While the vaccine was found to be slightly less effective than others at preventing any symptoms, it was 85% at preventing severe illness and 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
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.
It could show up at your local pharmacy.
The J&J vaccine is expected to be distributed much as the other vaccines — spread out evenly across the states, major cities and other “jurisdictions” like federal agencies.
But if authorized, this vaccine would be the first to likely target the more general population. When Pfizer and Moderna were authorized in December, the focus was still on health care workers and nursing homes.
The J&J vaccine will likely be used to expand supply for local pharmacies and mass vaccination sites. In most states, priority is now being given to older Americans living independently, people with severe health risks and essential workers, like teachers.
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