Last month, on February 25, the United States officially reached 50 million coronavirus vaccinations, half of President Biden’s target goal of 100 million vaccinated in his first 100 days in office. This achievement occurred only 37 days into his presidency, and the administration appears well on track to reaching its goal.
For the Biden administration, the good news does not end there. Over the weekend, both the FDA and CDC signed off on the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, making it the third vaccine to be authorized by the US. The shipment of almost 4 million doses of this new vaccine began on Monday, and vaccination numbers are expected to be high. According to Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky, the company has made a commitment to delivering 100 million of its doses by June, and up to a billion doses by the end of the year. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said that the company also expects to have delivered 16 million additional doses by the end of March.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine differs from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine in that it is the first single-dose vaccine to be authorized in the US. A benefit of the single-dose vaccine, as stated by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, is that it can immunize those who may be unable or unwilling to get a second vaccination. This vaccine also stands out in the fact that it does not require ultracold storage. This vaccine’s storage and transportation requirements are also much more flexible, allowing it to be administered more widely.
The new vaccine does have one major drawback: While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94% effective in preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 respectively, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is only 66% effective in that area, according to an international study. However, public health officials have been urging individuals to receive whichever vaccine is first available to them. They warn that people trying to choose one vaccine over the other may result in people having to wait, and in the midst of a pandemic, time is essential. It is important to note that the study that found the vaccine to be 66% effective was carried out not only in the US, but in Latin America and South Africa as well, two places with different infection dynamics and virus variants. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the vaccine is actually 72% effective against moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 in the US and 85% effective against cases of severe COVID-19 worldwide.
This news comes at a critical time for America. Though total COVID-19 cases have been declining, there has been an increase in cases of COVID-19 variants. A record increase was recorded on February 28, with 306 new variant cases being reported in the country. As certain states are easing up on lockdown restrictions, the overall decline in cases may become overshadowed by the COVID-19 variants. The impact of introducing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to this complicated picture remains to be seen.