- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday it will report the results of its coronavirus vaccine trial by next week, potentially placing the immunization campaign on a speedier trajectory as economies reel and nations tighten their borders against fast-moving variants.

U.S. officials are desperate to gain approval of J&J’s one-dose vaccine as the pandemic claims thousands of lives per day and governors clamor for more supply.

“We plan to report out by early next week in terms of our results,” J&J Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk told CNBC as he discussed fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations.

“It’s a very robust, 45,000-person study across eight countries in three different continents,” he said. “We do have some of these new strains potentially captured in our data as we had sites in South Africa as well as Brazil. So we’ll let the scientists do their work there.”

Mr. Wolk said J&J plans to offer a robust supply of the vaccine, including 100 million doses to the U.S. by the end of June, 200 million to the European Union by the end of the year and 200 million doses to developing countries, which will begin shipping in the second half of the year.

Governors are pushing the federal government to ship more doses to their states so they can vaccinate a broader range of residents and bring the pandemic to manageable levels.

Immunization professionals say they’re in a tough spot, as counties compete for doses and weigh questions of geographic distribution and equity.

“Governors want to set up some of these large-scale events. If they do it, it’s taking doses away from a smaller community,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, told The Washington Times. “They’re having to make difficult decisions. They don’t want to over-promise.”

President Biden says he’s going to push for 1.5 million shots per day, a 50% increase over his initial pledge to average 1 million daily shots over the first 100 days of his presidency. 

The decision reflects pressure to set his sights higher, since the country averaged 1.25 million doses per day over the last week, according to a Bloomberg News tracker.

Makers of the two approved vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, say they’re running at full capacity, so the U.S. likely needs new vaccines to come online to set even more ambitious goals.

Officials are keen on J&J’s vaccine because it requires only one dose, obviating the thorny logistics of getting people to return for a second dose.

As it stands, states also have to balance their supply of the Pfizer and Moderna versions for second-dose recipients against those seeking first-round protection.

It’s unclear whether phase 3 trial results from J&J will match the 95% efficacy reported by the messenger RNA vaccines that were approved in December, but even a rate approaching that could put a dent in the pandemic.

“We continue to progress our COVID-19 vaccine candidate and look forward to sharing details from our Phase 3 study soon,” J&J CEO Alex Gorsky told investors. “Johnson & Johnson was built for times like these, and I am extremely confident in our ability to deliver lasting value and continued innovation in 2021 and for years to come.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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