The head of Johnson & Johnson said Americans should start receiving the company’s COVID-19 vaccine within 48 hours, adding further ammunition to the effort to get jabs into arms and contain the pandemic that has killed more than half a million people.
The J&J vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday, after an advisory committee of independent experts voted that the benefits outweighed the risks on Friday.
“We’re shipping 4 million [vaccine doses] literally as we speak,” Chief Executive Alex Gorsky told NBC News’ Today program on Monday. “We’re committed to doing 100 million by June of this year, and up to a billion by the end of 2021.”
There are high hopes for the J&J
vaccine, which is a one-dose regimen that does not come with the refrigeration requirements that have made the existing authorized vaccines tricky to administer. Gorsky acknowledged that the vaccine is less effective than the ones developed by Pfizer Inc.
and German partner BioNTech SE
and Moderna Inc.
Those are more than 90% effective, while the J&J one is 72% effective.
But it “works 85% of the time against serious disease and it kept all the patients out of the hospital and from dying, even against these new and really challenging variants,” he said.
“Patients here in this country, let alone around the world, should have a lot of confidence, a lot of trust, in knowing they’re getting a very safe and effective, one-shot vaccine,” he said.
The new vaccine comes as the global number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbs above 114 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, and the death toll climbs above 2.53 million.
The U.S. leads the world by far with 28.6 million cases, or more than the next two countries, India and Brazil, combined and 513,510 fatalities, or about a fifth of the global total.
And while U.S. case numbers have been declining and fewer patients require hospitalization, there are concerns about the growing number of new variants that are far more infectious than the original virus, making it more important than ever that Americans comply with the recommended safety measures, such as frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a face mask in public, until the country has vaccinated enough people to stop the spread.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reiterated to reporters at a Monday briefing that the decline in cases is beginning to stall at a high level of about 70,000 a day. That is making her worry about those states that have started to roll back safety measures and reopen for business.
“70,000 cases a day seems good compared with where were were a few months ago,” she said. “But we can’t be resigned to 70,000 cases and 2,000 deaths a day. At this level of cases, we stand to lose our hard-earned gains.”
Walensky, and other members of the White House pandemic task force, welcomed the J&J vaccine as a much needed addition to the toolbox and urged people to get vaccinated as soon as it is their turn.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. ET Sunday, 96.4 million doses had been delivered to states, 75.2 million doses had been administered and 49.8 million people had received one or more dose.
“15% of the population has already received at least one dose of existing vaccines.,” said Raymond James analyst Chris Meekins. “So, case statistics and vaccinations provide hope while we remember those we have lost and remain cognizant of potential roadblocks from variants.”
Globally, the case count increase averaged 378,000 in the past week, compared to last week’s 368,000 after four weeks of improvements, said Meekins.
The president of Ghana became the first person to receive a COVID vaccine under the World Health Organization’s Covax program, which aims to ensure that poorer countries get their share of doses. The issue of vaccine equity has been highlighted by the WHO and United Nations, with leaders lamenting that 10 countries have so far administered 75% of vaccines.
Ghana was the first country to receive vaccines through the Covax program with 600,000 doses being delivered on Friday, enough to inoculate 300,000 people.
In other news:
• The Czech Republic has tightened lockdown measures and beefed up its police presence to enforce them as the government battles what has become the world’s worst surge in infections, Reuters reported. The country, with a population of 10.7 million, had the highest per capita infection rate in the world last week and has had more than 1 million confirmed cases. Overall, the Czech Republic has seen 191.41 deaths per 100,000 population, putting it third in the world after San Marino and Belgium. Czechs are no longer allowed to travel to their hometowns and districts apart from trips to work or other exemptions.
•The European Commission will propose in March to create an EU-wide digital vaccination passport that would allow Europeans to travel during the summer holiday period, according to local media reports. Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told German conservative lawmakers that such a passport would allow people to show proof of vaccination and avoid quarantine protocols when they set foot in another country.
• New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern has reprimanded rule-breakers for causing a cluster of new cases of COVID that has forced her to impose restrictions on the city of Auckland, the Guardian reported. The city is currently in level 3 lockdown for at least a week, after the discovery of a community case of unknown origin. Ardern told reporters at a briefing that breaking the rules was unacceptable and that those who had done so were “facing the full judgment of the entire nation.”
• Israel’s rapid vaccination program — about 50% of its citizens have received a first dose — is helping other countries understand how mass inoculation can change the trajectory of the pandemic, the Washington Post reported. Research from Israeli scientists is showing that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is even more effective than hoped in the real world at preventing serious illness and death, is safe for almost all adults and has few serious side effects. The research has allowed health officials to open the program to pregnant women and nursing mothers.
• The amount of testing for COVID in the U.S. has fallen by 30% in recent weeks, the New York Times reported, raising concerns about new outbreaks. Just 10 million tests were conducted in the week ended Feb. 24, down from nearly 14 million a week in early January, the paper reported, citing data from the COVID Tracking Project. The trend is likely due to less travel, now the holiday season is over, few exposures, bad winter weather and the vaccine rollout. But experts are also concerned that pandemic fatigue may be setting in after a year of restrictions on movement.
The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 stood at 114.3 million on Monday, the Johns Hopkins data shows, while the death toll rose above 2.53 million.
About 64 million people have recovered from COVID.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 254,942 and is third by cases at 10.6 million.
India is second worldwide in cases with 11.1 million, and now fourth in deaths at 157,157.
Mexico has the third highest death toll at 185,715 and 13th highest case tally at 2.1 million.
The U.K. has 4.2 million cases and 123,187 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world.
China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 100,979 confirmed cases and 4,836 deaths, according to its official numbers.
What’s the economy saying?
American manufacturing grew in February at the fastest pace since the onset of the pandemic and business leaders are increasingly optimistic about the economy, a closely followed survey showed, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.
The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index rose to 60.8% last month from 58.7% in January and matched a two-year high.
Economists surveyed by Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal had forecast the ISM index to total 58.9%.
Readings over 50% indicate growth, and anything over 55% is considered exceptional.