J&J vaccine shown to prevent 85% of severe COVID-19 disease

Note: The headline and text of this story were corrected on Feb 4 to specify that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine provided 100% protection against COVID-related hospitalization and death and 85% protection against severe COVID-19 disease. We apologize for the error.

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Results from an international phase 3 trial of Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine show it is overall 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe symptoms of COVID-19. The vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease and 100% effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths.

The vaccine has been a long-hoped for game-changer in the global fight against the pandemic because it requires only one dose, can be manufactured in billions of doses, and requires only standard refrigeration.

"A one-shot vaccine is considered by the World Health Organization to be the best option in pandemic settings, enhancing access, distribution and compliance. Eighty-five percent efficacy in preventing severe COVID-19 disease and prevention of COVID-19-related medical interventions will potentially protect hundreds of millions of people from serious and fatal outcomes of COVID-19," said Paul Stoffels, MD, chief scientific officer for Johnson & Johnson, in a company news release.

Heartened by the data

Today Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the vaccine results during a White House pandemic briefing. He said he was heartened by the data, which showed the vaccine to be 72% effective at preventing moderate to severe disease among US trial participant, 66% in Latin America participants, and 57% in South African participants 28 days post-vaccination.

Fauci said it is not discouraging that the vaccine did not tout 94% and 95% efficacy rates, like phase 3 data from Pfizer's and Moderna's mRNA vaccines.

"When one looks at potential impact for severe disease, we have now a value-added additional vaccine candidate," he said, noting that no hospitalizations or deaths were recorded among South African study participants who received the vaccine. Overall, the vaccine proved to be 57% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 in South Africa, where the dominant strain of the virus is variant B1351.

Johnson & Johnson, which developed the vaccine with subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, is expected to file for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration next week. If approved, the vaccine would be available in the United States as soon as late February.

As part of Operation War Speed, Johnson & Johnson is set to deliver 100 million doses to the US federal government by Jun 1.

CDC head: Schools should be first to open, last to close

Also in today's coronavirus briefing, new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said the United States was still in a grim spot with the virus, with states reporting four time as many cases each day as over the summer.

US officials reported 164,665 new COVID-19 cases and 3,872 deaths yesterday, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker. In total, the US has 25,860,188 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 435,089 deaths.

Referencing earlier reports from the CDC published this week that showed limited COVID-19 spread in schools, Walensky said school settings do not seem to spread COVID-19 when mitigation strategies, including distancing and mask-wearing, are followed.

But community spread in some communities is still rampant, Walensky warned. In Texas, the state surpassed 2 million cases this week. According to the Texas Tribune, it took Texas 8 months to get its first million cases, and only 3 months to get its second million.

Walensky also said the CDC has now tracked more than 315 cases of the B117 variant in 28 states. She said though the United States does not perform as much genetic sequencing on virus samples as other countries, doing so would do little to stop the spread of the variants once they have been detected.

"Treat every case as if it's a variant," she said. "By the time it's sequenced, our opportunity to do real contact tracing is gone."

Rural areas see more vaccine

New data from Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida show the highest per-capita vaccination rates often belong to less populated counties, according to Reuters.

Officials in rural communities told Reuters personal ties with constituents have made it easier to overcome vaccine hesitancy, and identify those eligible for early shots. And unlike cities, rural areas haven’t been dogged by online registration platforms that have crashed from use, and rural communities have set up vaccine clinics with relative ease.

As of Wednesday, 16 states had administered less than half of the COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped to them, according to a USA Today analysis of CDC data. The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows 48,386,275 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed in the country, and 26,193,682 have been administered.

Today the Whole House said the nation averaged vaccinating 1.2 million people per day this week.

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