The Johnson & Johnson jab is a game changer

30 January 2021

1:51 AM

30 January 2021

1:51 AM

Good vaccine news has been pouring in today — this afternoon it was the turn of the Janssen vaccine, made by US company Johnson & Johnson. An international trial, in which the vaccine was tested against various strains of the virus, has found the jab to have 66 per cent overall efficacy.

This is a lower efficacy rate than the trial conducted in the United States — which found the jab to be 72 per cent effective. But the international trial was designed to test the vaccine against more aggressive strains of the virus in a bid to answer questions about the new mutations. The trail set up sites in ‘red list’ areas, including Brazil and South Africa, finding that (after 28 days) the vaccine was 66 per cent effective in Latin America and 57 per cent effective in South Africa.

But perhaps the biggest news to come out of the trial is how effective the vaccine is when it comes to the most important metrics: eliminating hospitalisations and deaths from the virus. According to the findings, the jab prevented 85 per cent of severe infections after 28 days, which increased over time with ‘no cases in vaccinated participants reported after day 49’. And it offered ‘complete protection’ from hospitalisations and deaths in the same time frame. In other words, those who got the jab but still contracted the virus were protected from the worst-case scenario.

Based on these findings, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a game changer. It is a single-dose vaccine, which requires no follow-up with patients (though the company is trialling a booster shot). A one-time jab would free up significant space and time in vaccinations centres, which are set to see every person who is inoculated return, eventually, for their second dose. The vaccine is also easy to store, with a fridge-life of roughly three months, compared to the Pfizer or Moderna jabs which must be stored at below-freezing temperatures.

This will also have huge implications for inoculation programmes in developing countries, where the logistics of storing and administering the vaccine can prove difficult. And in every country, the guarantee of protection from a single-jab removes any need for campaigns or strategies to make sure people follow up for their second appointment.

While its efficacy rate falls below other successful vaccines — including Novavax, which confirmed 89 per cent effectiveness today — its rate hovers around that of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently being used across Britain to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups. Some countries, including the UK, are prioritising first doses to provide some protection to a larger group of people over administering second doses, but the benefit of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is that this trade-off would disappear.

Britain has bought 30 million doses — which, unlike the other vaccines, does not need to be cut in half to account for how many people it covers. The European Union has confirmed up to 400 million doses, which could make a remarkable difference to its vaccine programme after it has so far fallen woefully short. But it might take some time to get them: Johnson & Johnson are thought to be two months behind in their production schedule to fulfil orders in America, which could suggest a delay for the Europeans. Still, if it comes to be approved by the regulator, this vaccine is likely to become a powerful resource in our overall bid to tackle the virus.

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