The head of Johnson & Johnson said Americans should start receiving the company’s COVID-19 vaccine within 48 hours, adding further ammunition to the effort to get jabs into arms and contain the pandemic that has killed more than half a million people.
The J&J vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday, after an advisory committee of independent experts voted that the benefits outweighed the risks on Friday.
“We’re shipping 4 million [vaccine doses] literally as we speak,” Chief Executive Alex Gorsky told NBC News’ Today program on Monday. “We’re committed to doing 100 million by June of this year, and up to a billion by the end of 2021.”
There are high hopes for the J&J /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -1.06% vaccine, which is a one-dose regimen that does not come with the refrigeration requirements that have made the existing authorized vaccines tricky to administer. Gorsky acknowledged that the vaccine is less effective than the ones developed by Pfizer Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +1.78% and German partner BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +6.68% and Moderna Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +5.26% Those are more than 90% effective, while the J&J one is 72% effective.
But it “works 85% of the time against serious disease and it kept all the patients out of the hospital and from dying, even against these new and really challenging variants,” he said.
“Patients here in this country, let alone around the world, should have a lot of confidence, a lot of trust, in knowing they’re getting a very safe and effective, one-shot vaccine,” he said.
The new vaccine comes as the global number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbs above 114 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and the death toll climbs above 2.53 million.
The U.S. leads the world by far with 28.6 million cases, or more than the next two countries, India and Brazil, combined and 513,510 fatalities, or about a fifth of the global total.
And while U.S. case numbers have been declining and fewer patients require hospitalization, there are concerns about the growing number of new variants that are far more infectious than the original virus, making it more important than ever that Americans comply with the recommended safety measures, such as frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask in public, until the country has vaccinated enough people to stop the spread.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reiterated to reporters at a Monday briefing that the decline in cases is beginning to stall at a high level of about 70,000 a day. That is making her worry about those states that have started to roll back safety measures and reopen for business.
“70,000 cases a day seems good compared with where were were a few months ago,” she said. “But we can’t be resigned to 70,000 cases and 2,000 deaths a day. At this level of cases, we stand to lose our hard-earned gains.”
Walensky, and other members of the White House pandemic task force, welcomed the J&J vaccine as a much needed addition to the toolbox and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as it is their turn.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Sunday, 96.4 million doses had been delivered to states, 75.2 million doses had been administered and 49.8 million people had received one or more dose.
“15% of the population has already received at least one dose of existing vaccines.,” said Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins. “So, case statistics and vaccinations provide hope while we remember those we have lost and remain cognizant of potential roadblocks from variants.”
Globally, the case count increase averaged 378,000 in the past week, compared to last week’s 368,000 after four weeks of improvements, said Meekins.
The president of Ghana became the first person to receive a COVID vaccine under the World Health Organization’s Covax program, which aims to ensure that poorer countries get their share of doses. The issue of vaccine equity has been highlighted by the WHO and United Nations, with leaders lamenting that 10 countries have so far administered 75% of vaccines.
Ghana was the first country to receive vaccines through the Covax program with 600,000 doses being delivered on Friday, enough to inoculate 300,000 people.