CDC panel endorses emergency use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

CDC panel endorses emergency use of Johnson & Johnson vaccine
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A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory committee has voted to recommend Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for people ages 18 and older in the United States.

CDC Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFauci says trick-or-treating this Halloween ok Overnight Health Care — Presented by EMAA — Pfizer requests FDA authorize COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds CDC director urging flu shots ahead of potentially 'severe' season MORE is expected to accept the committee’s recommendation later Sunday or Monday, allowing vaccinations to begin.

The 12-0 vote with one recusal from CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices comes after the Food and Drug Administration officially cleared the country's third coronavirus vaccine for emergency use on Saturday.

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The vaccine will become available at a key moment, as developments regarding the coronavirus pandemic flip constantly between positive and grim.

The United States last week surpassed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, but nursing home deaths have sharply dropped, as have overall cases and deaths. Still, the CDC is warning the decline in new cases has stalled amid a rise in more contagious variants of the virus. 

At the same time, governors across the country are lifting coronavirus restrictions, including mask mandates and capacity limits, despite warning signs of a new spike from the virus mutations.

While vaccinations are starting to help get the pandemic under control, they are not yet widely available and demand still far outstrips supply. 

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine will not have a big impact on that initially; it can only provide about 4 million doses immediately, and the White House has told governors to expect smaller shipments over the coming weeks until J&J can ramp up its deliveries. 

The company has pledged to increase its supply to 20 million doses by the end of March, and 100 million total by the end of summer. Since it is delivered as a single dose, 100 million doses would completely vaccinate as many people.

Both Pfizer and Moderna, which make the other two coronavirus vaccines on the market, have also pledged a substantial increase in supply by the end of March. But until that time of wider availability, experts and health officials are urging members of the public not to let their guard down.

The J&J shot is also likely to ease the complicated logistics of the U.S. vaccine rollout. Unlike the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson's shot can be stored in a normal refrigerator for several months, rather than at ultra-cold temperatures. 

The CDC panel noted those characteristics could make it much more attractive for a wider array of stakeholders, like rural areas, community health centers and even individual physician offices, once supply allows. 

And as a single shot, there won't be a concern about scheduling or having enough supplies for a second dose, which could be a boost for equity.