In an earlier segment on Today, one NBC reporter called it “juuuuust a little bit of hope” after a vaccination stall over the last couple of weeks. The initial delivery of 4 million doses from Johnson & Johnson is less than half of what was projected, but CEO Alex Gorsky assures Savannah Guthrie that it’s full steam ahead from here on in. J&J has its product “literally rolling out on the trucks as we speak,” Gorsky says, and projects that the first vaccinations of J&J’s newly approved candidate will come “in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
The most informative part of the interview comes in Gorsky’s careful explanation of why the effective rate is not easily comparable to Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Guthrie asks Gorsky to convince people that they should not consider the J&J candidate “a second-tier vaccine,” which might discourage people from getting inoculated immediately. Allahpundit has noted this before, but here it is from the horse’s mouth
“Within the next 24 to 48 hours, Americans should start receiving shots in arms.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 1, 2021
This is why Antony Fauci told Meet the Press yesterday that he’d take any of the three vaccines with EUAs, and urged people to take whatever they can get. Remember that J&J started its Phase 3 trials later in the pandemic and conducted it in significant part outside the US, where the variants were more of an issue. We don’t actually know how Moderna and Pfizer would stand up against a broader mix of variants, although we do have some preliminary data that looks hopeful. It’s entirely possible that it would look exactly like J&J’s vaccine data. In any case, a vaccine that prevents serious acute cases 85% of the time and hospitalization or death 100% of the time against all variants is a wildly effective vaccine by medical standards. The FDA generally requires vaccines to have an effectiveness north of 50% without harmful side effects to get approval.
In other words, it’s not a second-tier vaccine, especially since it only requires one shot rather than two. It might still have second-tier availability, though. Pfizer and Moderna have had supply hiccups too, but the main problem there has been logistics in distribution to states over the last four weeks. Some reports have J&J’s projected deliveries at 20 million by the end of the month, but Gorsky says they’ll produce 100 million by the end of June.
That still might get a bit swamped out by J&J’s two competitors, but J&J does have one advantage — storage:
The J&J vaccine does not use the mRNA technology used in the other two approved vaccines, which teach cells to make a protein that prompts an immune response.
Instead, the J&J vaccine uses a viral vector method where a different virus is introduced as a bit of coronavirus’ genetic material into the cells. The body’s immune system then learns to identify and overcome the coronavirus.
The J&J vaccine can be stored in normal refrigerators, while, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines need to be stored at below-freezing temperatures.
Pfizer at first required super-freezing temperatures, but they have since discovered that regular pharmaceutical freezers will suffice. J&J doesn’t even require that level of storage, which makes it a far easier product in terms of logistics. This will allow all sorts of clinics and community-based efforts to deliver the vaccine into arms. If J&J had hit the production goals set by Operation Warp Speed, it’s possible that Pfizer and Moderna would need to worry about being eclipsed rather than the other way around.
Again, this is overall great news, but the final piece of this is the government’s distribution plans. They have come up seriously short on distribution for a full month. Unless we solve that, the J&J vaccine is just more unused potential.