Why Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine will help in the fight to end the pandemic

On Feb. 27, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s now the third vaccine approved in the U.S., joining those from Pfizer and Moderna. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explains how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine differs and how it will help in the fight to end the coronavirus pandemic.

Video Transcript

JEFF ZIENTS: As to the expected supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, this week we'll distribute 3.9 million doses. That is the entirety of Johnson & Johnson's current inventory.

KAVITA PATEL: The Johnson & Johnson emergency use authorization came through from the Food and Drug Administration, which technically means that it's now able to be used under an emergency authorization-- not a full approval, but just like Moderna and Pfizer, able to ship doses and be used around the country.

So the J&J vaccine has received a lot of attention, because it is a more flexible vaccine. It's one shot. It can be stored in refrigerators. There's a lot of advantages to it for places that don't have freezers, and candidly, might need to use coolers or some other mechanism to get to rural areas. I think it's less about a certain population that should receive it, and more about the flexibility for populations to receive it.

People are trying to just put the message out, me included, get as many of these doses into as many arms, through whatever means possible. So if that means that it can go to clinics, great. Get them to clinics. Americans should not wait for a certain type of vaccine. Especially because it's tempting to compare the efficacy numbers-- here's how to think about the efficacy numbers. Number one, all three of these manufacturers, Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson conducted their trials at different times, in different parts of the world. It's apples and oranges and bananas to compare them to each other.

And then number two, any of these efficacy rates, no matter how you look at them, are much higher than any of the efficacy rates we've seen for viral vaccines in the past. They are way above the threshold set by the FDA of 50% efficacy to accomplish what we need to do. So think of it this way-- any vaccine you're getting today is going to be a completely appropriate choice to protect you from what we need to do.

So right now Americans won't have a choice in what vaccine they get, but that's OK. All three of the currently authorized vaccines prevent death, prevent severe hospitalizations, and that's what really matters. We're still at the stage where the demand far outweighs the supply. And I think that will continue for the next two months, at least. Because if you look at the demographics, we're still in the majority of the states only vaccinating people 65 and. Older and even those people 65 and older, we're only getting to 25% to 40% of them.

There is a lot more than we need to do to get through the population, but March and April are going to be kind of game changers. Don't forget we have two more manufacturers that are on the heels of Johnson & Johnson. We expect to see Novavax and AstraZeneca in the next several months. I think that's when we'll start to see the ability to potentially say, I want this one, or I want that one. And the faster we can get them into people the more progress we can make towards that important goal of herd immunity, and life getting back to normal.

Johnson & Johnson is currently in process of looking at three important populations with different efforts. Number one, a two-dose version of their vaccine. This might help, in particular, older patients or people with immunocompromised conditions, because that second dose could help boost immunity a little bit better. They're also looking at pregnant women, and what this could do in pregnant women, which is an important population also being studied by other manufacturers. And then number three, they are testing this in infants, which we know, is critical to answering that ever-important question of when will vaccine be available for infants and children?