It’s a good week for COVID-19 vaccines so far. On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) fully approved the Pfizer version. On Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson released data supporting the use of its vaccine as a booster shot for the 14 million people previously vaccinated with its own single-shot vaccine.
The key takeaway in the company’s research is that the vaccine demonstrated neutralizing antibody responses that were “strong and stable” through eight months after immunization. The team said a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine produced a “rapid and robust increase” in spike-binding antibodies that was nine times higher than 28 days after the primary single-dose vaccination.
Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst
Earlier this summer, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said he thinks people who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine may be protected against the Delta variant.
Backing Dr. Murthy up is recently released data from a clinical trial in South Africa. That trial tracked nearly a half-million health care workers and found that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 71% and the risk of death by 95% in cases that were linked to the Delta variant.
True, some people who have been fully vaccinated have become infected with COVID-19 -- but those cases are in the minority. The majority of those people only experienced mild symptoms and did not require hospitalization -- a viewpoint shared by the CDC.
As the Delta variant continues to spread rapidly, breakthrough infections are increasing among recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. That finding was explained in full by Reategui Schwarz in an article from The Association of American Medical Colleges.
“Right now, all the vaccines are still effective against the variants,” Schwarz says. “We haven’t seen a variant that can fully escape immunity.”
The next step for Johnson & Johnson
As it was with Pfizer, getting more buy-in and FDA approval is a short-term goal for Johnson & Johnson.
In announcing its new findings, the company said it is engaging with FDA officials, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and other health authorities regarding using its vaccine as a booster.
The company also said it will continue to “diligently” produce and assess data from ongoing trials and real-world evidence in case the virus mutates further. Medical professionals are championing Johnson & Johnson’s research efforts and applauding the positive effect the company’s vaccine has produced.
“People who have received the J&J vaccine should be confident they have a high level of protection against hospitalization and severe disease,” Schwarz said.