Members of the White House COVID-19 response team said Monday that while they were excited and encouraged by the approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, they were concerned by recent data that showed a decrease in the spread of the virus appears to have stalled.
Over the weekend, the FDA officially granted Emergency Use Authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It’s the third COVID-19 vaccine to which the FDA has granted emergency approval.
Video taken Monday from a warehouse in Shepherdsville, Kentucky — located just south of Louisville — showed workers moving packages of the vaccine to trucks for transport across the country. The single-shot vaccine could be administered to patients in the coming hours.
Team coordinator Jeff Zients said that supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be “limited” for the next several weeks — the company said last week that it would fall short of its promise to deliver 10 million doses by the end of the month. However, Zients said Monday that he expects the company to meet its promised goal of 20 million doses at the end of March, and added that supplies will increase in the weeks ahead.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine solves several logistical hurdles presented by COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single shot, meaning patients don’t need to return several weeks later for a booster. The vaccine can also be stored at regular refrigeration temperatures as opposed to the ultra-cold temperatures required for other vaccines.
And while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not prevent COVID-19 at the same rates as its counterparts — J&J’s vaccine prevents the virus at a rate of about 70%, while the other two approved vaccines prevent the disease at rates above 90% — the vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe cases of the disease.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine prevents COVID-19-linked hospitalizations at a rate of 90%. So far, no one who has received the vaccine has died of a COVID-19 infection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, said last week that it was “only good news” that another vaccine was now available. He also urged Americans to get vaccinated with whatever drug was available to them as soon as it was their turn to get injected.
"This is a race…between the virus and getting vaccines into people," Fauci said. "The longer one waits on getting vaccinated, the better chance the virus has to get a variant or mutation."
The approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should provide an immediate boost to the country’s vaccination efforts. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. is currently distributing an average of 1.75 million vaccines each day for the last week — its highest number to date. That means the U.S. has recovered from a two-week lull in distribution caused by severe weather across the country.
Zients added Monday that the current average of dosage delivery may be “understating” the current pace, adding that during the early part of last week, much of the country was still in the throes of a weather crisis.
But despite the good news about COVID-19 vaccines, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned that the decrease in case rates seen in recent weeks appears to have stalled.
Noting that she was “very concerned” and “really worried” about a slight increase in daily cases last week, she urged states not to roll back restrictions requiring social distancing and mask usage.
“We cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases per day and 2,000 deaths," Walensky said.