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Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Is 66% Effective In Preventing Moderate To Severe COVID-19


Another vaccine has shown it can prevent covid-19. This one is from the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson in a large study conducted in the United States, South Africa and Latin America, the vaccine was 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID disease. Joining me now to talk about the results is NPR science correspondent Joe Palca. Hi, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So I'm just going to say right off the bat, 66% - solid, but it's just - it doesn't sound as good as some of the other vaccines.

PALCA: No, it doesn't. But that's the number for the entire - all the reasons you just mentioned. It was 72% in the United States. So that's better. And in a media telebriefing this morning, Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases tried to put that in context.


ANTHONY FAUCI: If this had occurred in the absence of a prior announcement and implementation of 94 and 95% efficacy, one would have said this was an absolutely spectacular result.

PALCA: But he admitted that there could be a messaging challenge here. I mean, 72, 95 - you know, it seems like a difference. But they also emphasize that this vaccine was 85% effective in preventing the most serious forms of COVID disease, which is important. And they also said, look. The epidemic, the pandemic is changing. The virus is changing. And so those initial numbers might not hold as well today as they did when those studies were conducted.

MARTIN: I mean, are there advantages to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or should people try to get the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer that appear to be more effective?

PALCA: Well, right now, they should take what they can get. From a public health point of view, the vaccine does have some advantages. It's just one shot. It's easier to get to people. It doesn't require any special refrigeration. And another important factor is that the company says they can make a billion doses by the end of the year. And so, you know, if you need a vaccine and this one's available...

MARTIN: Right.

PALCA: ...It's better than a poke in the eye, for sure.

MARTIN: Does this vaccine work against the variant that's circulating in South Africa, turned up yesterday in South Carolina here in the U.S.?

PALCA: Well, that's still an open question. Those numbers that we talked about at the beginning - 72% of the U.S., only 50% - 57% efficacy in South Africa. So it suggests that something there isn't working quite as well, may be related to the new variant. But the good news is that 85% number, that protection from severe disease - that was the same in South Africa as it was in the U.S. So it seems that even if people are getting that new variant in South Africa, they're not getting as sick from it if they get this vaccine.

MARTIN: Let's talk about another vaccine, a different one made by the biotech company Novavax, also just reported results. How well did that one work?

PALCA: Well, yeah, that was a big study from the U.K., 15,000 people. And there, it was 90% effective overall - just about. Again, here, the efficacy was a little bit better for people who - against the virus that was the original virus, the one that came when - started all this, versus the variant that's been circulating in the U.K. It was a little - wasn't quite as effective there. So it suggests the vaccine - that vaccine works slightly differently against different forms of the virus. And again, the study - they did a study also in South Africa and showed that it wasn't working quite as well down there.

MARTIN: So, I mean, this is, although, good news because we have more tools in the tool chest, right? So when might we see these latest vaccines authorized for use here?

PALCA: Well, the people from Johnson & Johnson said that they're planning to go to the Food and Drug Administration in the next week or so to ask for an emergency-use authorization so they can start distributing the vaccine. They're pretty confident that it will work.

MARTIN: NPR's Joe Palca. Thank you, Joe.

PALCA: You're very welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.