Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine endorsed by FDA panel

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to quickly follow the recommendation and make J&J’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. If the FDA agrees, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday.

More than 47 million people in the U.S., or 14% of the population, have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays due to winter storms.

While early J&J supplies will be small, the company has said it can deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June.

J&J’s vaccine protects against the worst effects of COVID-19 after one shot, and it can be stored up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to handle than the previous vaccines, which must be frozen.

One challenge in rolling out the new vaccine will be explaining how protective the J&J shot is after the astounding success of the first U.S. vaccines.

The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were found to be about 95% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. The numbers from J&J’s study are not that high, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. One dose of the J&J vaccine was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19. After adding in moderate cases, the total effectiveness dropped to about 66%.

Some experts fear that lower number could feed public perceptions that J&J’s shot is a “second-tier vaccine.” But the difference in protection reflects when and where J&J conducted its studies.

On Sunday, a CDC panel is expected to meet to recommend how to best prioritize use of the J&J vaccine.

In other developments:

  • A $1.9 trillion package aimed at helping the country rebuild from the pandemic seemed headed toward House passage Friday, even as Democrats searched for a way to revive their derailed drive to boost the minimum wage.
  • Ivory Coast has become the second country in the world to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the global COVAX initiative. The first COVAX shipment was sent to Ghana on Wednesday.
  • Canadian regulators have authorized AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for all adults, the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by Canada, following those from Pfizer and Moderna.
  • The town meeting, for centuries, was a staple of New England life — but the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate the departure from the tradition where people gather to debate everything from the purchase of local road equipment to multimillion-dollar budgets to pressing social issues.

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