Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, Europe’s “ace up its sleeve” to reach the summer with 70% vaccinated, faces its first regulatory test
Tomorrow is a key day. The FDA advisory committee meets on friday to decide whether to approve the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The North American agency has no obligation to follow the committee’s recommendations, but in the case of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it not only did so, but it did so the next day. But it is not a key day just for that.
It is because, if we take those other approvals as a reference, the North American approval is the “informal antechamber” of the European. With all the data on the table, with the pandemic still spreading its tentacles over the continent and criticism of the management of vaccines, all member states take for granted that Europe will already be vaccinating with it in March.
That is, if everything goes well, tomorrow will fall the first piece of dominoes that will end the arrival of mass vaccinations in Europe in just over a month. Because that is the real opportunity offered by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine: “effective”, “safe” and a single dose, Ad26.COV2.S can be the “secret weapon” that changes the epidemiological scene of the continent.
What do the FDA reports say?
Because beyond expectation, the FDA advisory committee meeting is loaded with documents. Some made by the pharmacist; others, by the same agency. That does not give the opportunity to land the data and see exactly what we have on our hands.
The first thing to keep in mind is that the vaccine presents an overall efficacy of 66% in the prevention of the different variants of SARS-CoV-2. The trial involved 44,000 people in various countries around the world. If we look at specific countries, we see that the highest efficacy was 72% in the United States and the lowest 64% in South Africa. Everything seems to indicate that this is due precisely to the so-called “South African strain” (which seems to interfere with the memory of the immune system).
Of course, in serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the results are comparable to the vaccines already approved. Being above 85% efficiency. Remember that the J&J vaccine uses a very similar approach to that of Oxford. Specifically, they have used the technology that the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston has been developing for more than ten years and that has already created vaccines (or projects of them) against Ebola, HIV and Zika: el vector ‘adenovirus 26’ (Ad26).
We are far from the staggering numbers of mRNA vaccines, but considering the technology, the demographic diversity of its trials and its numbers, the FDA seems to be clear that it is effective, safe and, above all, easy to use. That is, tEverything seems to indicate that with a well-designed vaccination campaign, the results can be very good. And that is what can change things: in Spain (which has committed enough vaccines to vaccinate half the population), in a Europe touched by problems with AstraZeneca and, above all, in the world.