Fauci says Johnson & Johnson vaccine helpful in COVID-19 fight despite lower efficacy

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Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious diseases expert, said the new COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is good news in the fight against the coronavirus even though it has lower efficacy than other shots already in circulation. 

“This is actually good news. It’s value added to the whole effort of getting more vaccine candidates into the mix,” Fauci said on NBC News on Friday night.

The remarks come after Johnson & Johnson announced that its vaccine is 66 percent effective in preventing moderate or severe disease, a level of protection above the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) minimum but lower than the authorized Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are effective roughly 95 percent of the time.

The shot’s efficacy was 72 percent in the United States but fell to 57 percent in South Africa, where a new coronavirus variant is running rampant.

“Even though the results showed a 72 percent in the United States, it was a study that involved not only the United States, but also South Africa and Brazil. The important point is that the protection against severe disease was very high, even in South Africa, where the mutant is dominant,” Fauci said. 

“So even though the numbers when you compare against mild to moderate disease, 72 percent versus 94-95, clearly 94-95 is better,” he continued. “But from a practical standpoint, from what you want to do to keep people out of the hospital and prevent death, this is a value added.” 

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s efficacy is lower than that of its competitors, the company emphasized that its shot is 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease and was 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalization or death starting 28 days after vaccination.

“One of the important things you want to do is to keep people out of the hospital. If you can also protect them against any kind of symptoms, that would be good,” Fauci said. “Not quite as good against the early disease, but against the serious consequences, it’s done very well.”

Still, Johnson & Johnson may face what Fauci said could be a “messaging issue” given the headline of its efficacy lagging behind Pfizer and Moderna. And even while it is a one-dose shot instead of requiring two doses, people may be reluctant to take it.

“There very well may be people who would actually prefer to have one dose,” Fauci said. “So I think there will be usefulness of it, even though … there may be some that would say, ‘I want the one that numerically is the best efficacy.’ That will happen, and that will be a messaging issue.”

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