The US Food and Drug Administration approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, beginning the rollout of millions of doses of a third vaccine that could reach Americans by early next week.
The announcement arrived at a critical moment, as the steep decline in new cases is evening out and millions of Americans are on a massive vaccination waiting list.
Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the United States with 100 million doses by the end of June. When combined with the 600 million doses from the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna slated to arrive by the end of July, there will be more than enough shots to cover any American adult who wants one.
But federal and state health officials are concerned that even with strong data to support it, some people may perceive Johnson & Johnson’s shot as an inferior option.
The new vaccine’s 72 percent efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial site — a number scientists have celebrated — falls short of the roughly 95 percent rate found in studies testing the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
Across all trial sites, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe forms of Covid-19 and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalization and death.
“Don’t get caught up, necessarily, on the number game, because it’s a really good vaccine, and what we need is as many good vaccines as possible,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview yesterday.
“Rather than parsing the difference between 94 and 72, accept the fact that now you have three highly effective vaccines. Period.”
If Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine would have been the first to be authorized in the United States instead of the third, “everybody would be doing handstands and back flips and high-fives,” said Dr. James T. McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Today, a committee of vaccine experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will discuss whether certain population groups should be prioritized for the vaccine.
One administration official familiar with the distribution of the vaccine said that shipments would begin tomorrow and deliveries could arrive as soon as Tuesday.