The extreme rate and sheer volume of medical research being completed to alleviate the COVID-19 pandemic, and to work toward a future absent constant mask-wearing and social distancing, has sparked hope around the globe. On Saturday, Feb. 27, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. This allows the vaccine to be distributed to those living in the U.S. who are 18 years and older. According to a recent FDA news release, the issuance of an EUA is not the same as an FDA approval. Before issuing an EUA, the FDA assesses evidence to determine the product’s efficacy and evaluates known or potential risks and benefits. The data resulting from clinical trials, including participants from around the world, shows that, according to the FDA, the “vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks, supporting the company’s request for the vaccine’s use in people 18 years of age and older.” The distribution of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a positive step toward diminishing the influence COVID-19 has over our day-to-day lives.
This single dose vaccine is 85% effective in preventing severe/critical COVID-19 symptoms from occurring at least 28 days after vaccination, and 66% effective in preventing typical symptomatic illness 28 days after vaccination. These percentages are not as high as the 95% efficacy of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but are still high numbers that encourage hope for the health of the country.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, increasing its availability to those who may be hard to reach or are unlikely to sign up to receive a second dose. John Wherry, director of the Institute for Immunology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania stated, “I think in terms of one shot versus two shots, you can start thinking about underserved communities where it may be harder to follow up and ask people to come back for second shots…” The inequality in medical care has been a constant concern and struggle throughout the pandemic. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can prevent illness and death from occurring while also lessening the disparity between who vaccinations are available to. The new vaccine can also be kept at normal refrigerated temperatures rather than the extreme-cold storage required for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, providing ease of transportation and storage. This opens up opportunities for the delivery of doses to rural America, where medical facilities hosting the cold storage for the other vaccines are far away from vaccination sites.
The rise of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 has increased the levels of concern. In addition to both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine appears to protect against the new strains of the virus, according to the FDA. Johnson & Johnson has a goal of shipping 20 million doses by the end of March.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has increased the availability of vaccines in general, as three different vaccines provide more opportunities for Americans to be vaccinated. All three vaccines are 100% successful at preventing death from COVID-19 in clinical trials. The pandemic has been dominating the United States, and the globe, for over a year and this vaccine allows for a larger percentage of the population to receive doses, decreasing the gap between who can and cannot receive a shot in terms of employment, wealth and location.
There is still a lot to be learned, but vaccines have already proven to lessen the power COVID-19 has over lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently released guidelines allowing fully-vaccinated people to meet with one another without masks or social distancing and has also allowed fully-vaccinated people to gather with un-vaccinated, single households without masks. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will most likely result in an even larger easing of restrictions across the country in the near future.
Vaccines are not the end-all-be-all, and I believe mask-wearing and social distancing should still be practiced. However, we are experiencing increased hope in terms of what this pandemic may look like in the following months and years. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine increases the opportunities for individuals and medical facilities to further dampen the severity of this virus and work back toward some form of “normalcy,” which is clearly beneficial for Americans.