1. FDA grants emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, which means there are now three effective shots available for Americans. The Johnson & Johnson candidate registered a 72 percent efficacy rate in the U.S. clinical trial. That falls short of the roughly 95 percent rates seen in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna trials, but experts are still very pleased with J&J's results, especially since it also showed 85 percent efficacy against severe COVID-19 infections, and 100 percent efficacy against hospitalizations and deaths, suggesting it will be a crucial tool in the fight to end the pandemic.
2. Trial data suggest J&J's vaccine stands up well against worrying variants One very encouraging datapoint in the FDA's analysis of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine suggests the shot works in areas where highly contagious variants are spreading, like Brazil and South Africa. The overall efficacy rate — that is, protection against any symptomatic infection — in the South African trial was lower than it was in the United States initially, but the numbers started to even out over time. After a month, the shot's efficacy rate against severe infection was 82 percent. The figures out of Brazil show a similar trajectory, though the efficacy rate against severe infections was actually slightly higher than in the U.S. The trial data is not a guarantee of the vaccine's effectiveness in a real-world setting, but the FDA's breakdown should help alleviate growing concerns that the variants can completely resist vaccinations. [Elemental, Politico]
3. Merck to help make Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine President Biden's administration unveiled a major partnership between Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson to manufacture the latter's COVID-19 vaccine. Merck will help make the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a move that "could sharply boost the supply," The Washington Post reports. Merck will reportedly dedicate two U.S. facilities to the effort, though it could take months to get these facilities running. The Biden administration sought a partnership after it became clear that Johnson & Johnson was behind on vaccine production. The company has said it expects to have 20 million vaccine doses available by the end of March and 100 million by the end of June. Merck previously attempted to develop COVID-19 vaccines but abandoned the effort due to inadequate immune responses. [The Washington Post, The Week]
4. Biden promises enough vaccine for every U.S. adult by May President Biden said Tuesday that the "stepped-up process" for producing and distributing coronavirus vaccines had put the country "on track" to have enough doses for every adult in the United States "by the end of May,"several months earlier than he previously predicted. Biden said the federal government was giving Johnson & Johnson, maker of a vaccine just approved for emergency use, the support it needs for around-the-clock production. The Biden administration brokered a deal under which Merck agreed to produce Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to boost the nation's inoculation effort. Johnson & Johnson's vaccine gives the U.S. a third vaccine, along with those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. A Merck spokesperson said the drug maker "remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics." [The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal]
5. Moderna to start trials of booster shot for COVID-19 variant Moderna announced last week it will begin testing a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine designed to target the coronavirus variant first reported in South Africa. The pharmaceutical company said it has sent doses of the booster shot to the U.S. National Institutes of Health for clinical trials. In a statement, CEO Stéphane Bancel said Moderna is "committed to making as many updates to our vaccine as necessary until the pandemic is under control." Moderna previously revealed that preliminary studies showed the vaccine still made neutralizing antibodies above protective levels for the South African variant, but because it was a reduced level, it prompted the company to begin tweaking the vaccine against the strain, as well as variants that first spread in the United Kingdom and Brazil. [NBC News]
One of the most important highlights from this week’s summary is the continuing rapid pace of development and evolution of vaccine production. You will have heard of the potentially problematic Covid-19 variants especially the South African strain; Moderna announced last week it will begin testing a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine designed to target the coronavirus variant first reported in South Africa. One very encouraging datapoint in the FDA's analysis of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine suggesting the shot works in areas where highly contagious variants are spreading, like Brazil and South Africa, perhaps up to 82% effective. Finally, the pandemic has drawn the global community together with a focused effort to protect as much of the world’s population as possible. This is reflected in the extraordinary partnership struck between two major competitive pharmaceutical companies Merck and Johnson & Johnson's who have agreed to J&J vaccine production in both companies’ facilities.