CDC advisors suggest Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, which paves the best way for vaccinations this week
The release of a third vaccine comes at a critical point in the pandemic: After weeks of steadily declining new cases in the US, the downward trend has stalled – “a very worrying shift in trajectory,” said CDC director Rochelle Walensky on Friday. Experts fear that state and local officials are loosening restrictions too quickly and people are losing their vigilance, even as more contagious and potentially deadly virus varieties are on the rise. Almost a year ago, authorities announced that it was likely the first coronavirus death in the United States. Since then, there have been more than 500,000 deaths in the United States from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“Covid cases and deaths are on the decline,” said Beth Bell, a global health expert at the University of Washington who leads the panel’s coronavirus vaccines working group. “But the pandemic is far from over and we face many challenges. The need for safer and more effective vaccines remains urgent and critical to ending the pandemic. “
The action of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices follows the action of the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday to approve the emergency vaccine for those aged 18 and over. Walensky is expected to approve the panel’s action shortly after the vote, making it an official CDC recommendation to healthcare providers.
The doses are expected to be delivered as early as Monday to locations that are already receiving doses of the other two approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. These locations include state health authorities, pharmacies, state-qualified health centers, and community vaccination centers.
Johnson & Johnson’s initial supply will be limited – close to 4 million cans are expected to ship this week and an estimated 20 million cans by the end of March, authorities said. But state officials already know what to expect as the number of expected doses for all three vaccines was included in the information they received last week.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85 percent effective against serious illness in late-stage studies, and there were no deaths or hospitalizations for a month after receiving the vaccine. The vaccine was slightly less effective at preventing moderate disease (72 percent effective in the US), where more communicable variants have only recently been discovered. Some experts fear the public will fixate on this data point and miss the Johnson & Johnson shot in favor of other vaccines tested earlier in the pandemic when such variants did not matter.
The panel members said this would leave people unprotected and delay an end to the pandemic.
Officials emphasized that vaccines were tested at different times, against different circulating variants, and in environments with different levels of transmission.
“Although there are differences in the effectiveness of the three vaccines against moderate disease, the more severe the outcome, the more similar the effectiveness,” said Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, who is not on the panel. “In other words, we now have three highly effective vaccines available in the US – especially against serious outcomes like hospitalizations and deaths. This single-dose vaccine, which can be stored at refrigerator temperatures, is likely to improve the ability of health departments and health systems to deliver mass vaccinations. The step towards rate limiting remains the availability of cans. “
Members and supporters of vaccination expressed concern that information about the effectiveness of the vaccine will be confusing to the public and make it even more difficult to get pictures in hard-to-reach communities.
“We need really simple language and clear public education about the difference between clinical trial efficacy and real-world efficacy,” said Karen Ernst, director of Parenting Voices for Vaccines, during the public comment period.
This story will be updated.