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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Johnson & Johnson Shot Nears Approval, Experts Study Transmission, and More Coronavirus News

Johnson & Johnson’s shot nears approval, experts look at the full scope of vaccine protection, and international Covax shipments begin. Here’s what you should know:

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Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine nears approval in the US

Today, a panel of experts will review the efficacy and safety of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine, the last step before the FDA decides whether or not to approve the shot. That decision is expected Saturday. Earlier this week, an FDA review found that the vaccine was 66 percent effective at protecting people from moderate to severe cases of Covid-19, and even more effective at protecting against severe disease. J&J has said that if approved, it will deliver around 20 million doses to the US by the end of March.

In addition, two other vaccines, from Novavax and AstraZeneca, expect to apply for emergency use authorization in the US in April. And Pfizer and Moderna both told US lawmakers this week that they’re expecting a major boost in vaccine deliveries over the next five weeks, saying they’ve overcome manufacturing challenges. As of Thursday, 6.5 percent of the US had been fully vaccinated, and almost 14 percent had received the first dose. All of the vaccine news of the last week indicates that those numbers will continue to increase.

Experts look at whether vaccines reduce transmission and protect against variants

This week, two new studies—both of which have yet to be peer reviewed—made headlines for announcing that vaccinations reduce viral spread. Experts not affiliated with the studies say they have flaws and can’t realistically tell us exactly how much vaccines reduce transmission, but the good news is that they show the vaccines are working well. For the moment, public health authorities say, stay masked and vigilant, even once you’re vaccinated.

Meanwhile, both Moderna and Pfizer are working to modify their vaccines so that they better protect against variants. On Wednesday, Moderna announced that a new version of its vaccine designed to target the variant first found in South Africa is ready for human testing. And Pfizer has said it’s exploring adding a third booster dose to specifically target the same mutation.

International vaccine distribution increases

This week, the WHO-led Covax initiative, which aims to distribute vaccines equitably around the world, sent its first shipments to Ghana and the Ivory Coast, an important step for global vaccine distribution. Covax received the vast majority of its funds from G7 countries and the EU. Other countries, including China, India, and Russia, have also begun their own so-called vaccine diplomacy efforts, even as they face their own domestic challenges.

Within the EU, efforts are also underway to accelerate vaccine rollout. Leaders in the region met this week and emphasized the importance of speeding up vaccine production and delivery. They also discussed the idea of “vaccine certificates,” which could make tourism and travel possible during summer holidays.

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