On Feb. 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced — via a Saturday evening tweet — that the agency granted Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) coronavirus vaccine for Americans 18 and older.
Claiming that “we’re in a hurry” because there’s not enough supply of the two COVID-19 vaccines already authorized for emergency use — Pfizer’s and Moderna’s — members of FDA’s committee agreed without dissent to allow a third COVID injection into the U.S. mix.
While the media drummed up enthusiasm for the expanded options, the Washington Post on March 2 offered an even splashier scoop: a “historic” production partnership between J&J and Merck, two pharma giants ordinarily portrayed as “fierce competitors.”
Employing hyperbolic language about the “wartime effort” and good “corporate citizenship,” public health leaders instantly celebrated the “unusual” arrangement for its potential to double “what Johnson & Johnson could make on its own.”
Experts bill J&J’s one-dose injections, which are storable for several months at refrigerator temperatures, as the ideal solution for vaccine programs challenged by the trickier storage and handling requirements of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots — an “advantage [that] goes up in neon,” Dr. William Schaffner, an internist and infectious disease specialist with Vanderbilt University’s Department of Health Policy, told News7 Boston.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who leads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 vaccine efforts — and who two years ago sat next to Dr. Anthony Fauci as he gave Congress false information about adverse events from measles vaccination — according to CNBC conceded the J&J product will be “operationally easier in lots of contexts” and “better suited for some populations.”
Different design, same goal
Rather than use the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology being deployed for the first time in the Pfizer and Moderna injections, J&J’s vaccine (made by the company’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals subsidiary) features a genetically engineered “viral vector” design reliant on a weakened common-cold virus called adenovirus 26.