AUSTIN, Texas — Earlier this week, Johnson & Johnson formally requested the Food and Drug Administration authorize its version of the COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.
The FDA is expected to hold a hearing later this month. Johnson & Johnson is hoping to ship out its first vaccines the first week of March and vaccinate 100 million people by June.
"It is going to be a game changer if it is approved," Interim Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said on Friday. "I know there are some concerns that have been expressed about the efficacy, 66% for the overall population tested."
The vaccine would only be one dose, instead of two like Moderna and Pfizer. However, Johnson & Johnson is also developing and testing a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine that would have a higher efficacy closer to that of Moderna and Pfizer.
"It's a single dose. That's incredibly important for people who are mobile," Dr. Charles Lerner, an infectious disease expert in San Antonio who is part of the COVID-19 task force for the Texas Medical Association, said. "Think agricultural workers, people who are on the road like truckers, people who are not going to be able to come back to get their second shot because they won't be there anymore – that's a game changer for those people all together."
Johnson & Johnson says the vaccine has a 66% efficacy against minor and serious COVID-19 symptoms, 85% efficacy against severe COVID-19 symptoms and will keep 100% of people from dying or even going to the hospital because of COVID-19 complications.
"The 100% prevention of death and hospitalization, that's a very critical issue," Lerner said.
Despite the lower efficacy, Lerner said it makes negligible difference in fighting the pandemic.
"Does traffic get better on your expressway when you open up another lane? Or two? Obviously, yes," Lerner said. "The more vaccines you have, the more options you have to get immunized. And that makes everybody get immunized faster. And the more people we have immunized, the fewer chances there are for the virus to mutate."
Even after getting vaccinated, Lerner still encourages people to wear masks, social distance and wash hands with soap and water often.
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