Johnson & Johnson's vaccine likely hours or days away from authorization in US

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- On Friday, a panel of independent experts is scheduled to review data from Johnson and Johnson's COVID vaccine and recommend it to the FDA, which could then authorize it by the weekend.

"This has just been a remarkable year in terms of the science," said Stanford infectious disease specialist, Dr. Hayley Gans, who is a member of the FDA's independent vaccine advisory committee. Pre-pandemic, Dr. Gans says the committee met twice a year to discuss the flu vaccine, but they will have met three times in just three months to review Pfizer, Moderna, and now Johnson and Johnson's vaccines.

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"I think that this is actually going to set the pace for the way in which we can actually look at vaccination in the future. And that's really exciting," said Dr. Gans.

Much of the excitement, is that Johnson and Johnson's vaccine is easier to store and distribute. J&J's vaccine is only one shot, while Moderna and Pfizer require two doses.

The FDA said the J&J vaccine, which is shipped in frozen vials, now can be transported and stored for up to two weeks at the temperatures of freezers commonly found in pharmacies. The MRNA vaccines need to be kept in ultra-cold freezers.

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Since the coronavirus started spreading across the globe in late 2019, scientists have been looking for a vaccine. Now that vaccines are proven, it will ultimately be up to each state to determine who will get the vaccine, and when?

Its overall efficacy rate is 72% in the U.S. but when it comes to preventing severe disease and death, Johnson and Johnson is 86% effective. Moderna and Pfizer's vaccines are 94% and 95% effective.

Dr. Gans expects the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee to greenlight the vaccine but she does have some questions she'd like addressed.

"I have some questions that I'd just like to clarify on how they're going to continue to monitor immunity. This is a lasting question we all have, how long will our immune response last and when and if we need boosters to this," said Dr. Gans.

Pfizer and Moderna, are doing just that, trying to stay one step ahead. They are already modifying vaccines to target the variant identified in South Africa.

Both companies are also testing a third booster shot of their original formulas to see if it offers more protection.

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"We may very well see that everyone needs to get a booster," said ABC7 special correspondent, Dr. Alok Patel. "We just don't know right now, I think the most important thing for people to know is that as of right now, these vaccines are working really well, against the strains that are dominant right now in the United States. And people just need to get whatever vaccine they can as fast as they can."

If the FDA grants emergency use to Johnson and Johnson by this weekend, three to four million doses are expected to ship in the U.S. next week.

J&J is on track to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June, which would likely ensure a surplus of doses in the U.S. since Pfizer and Moderna are on track to deliver enough doses for 300 million people by the end of July.

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