As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gears up to review the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday it could be a “difference maker” for the city’s vaccine supplies and its rollout to hard-to-reach seniors.
“It’s single dose, easier refrigeration standards,” de Blasio told reporters during a press conference. “This is what will supercharge our effort.”
In testimony submitted Tuesday to Congress, Johnson & Johnson’s vice president of U.S. medical affairs Dr. Richard Nettles said the company intends to deliver 20 million doses of the one-shot drug across the nation by the end of March. The company plans to deliver another 80 million during the first half of 2021.
New York City health officials don’t yet know how many of those doses would be directed to the five boroughs, according to Dr. Jay Varma, the city’s top public health official.
“Clearly supply continues to be the single most important issue,” Varma said. “That supply is dictated by the federal government and then of course by the manufacturers themselves.”
An FDA advisory committee will discuss the emergency use authorization of the vaccine at a Friday meeting, as it did for greenlighting Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in December. Days after each authorization, those doses were shipped across the country to kickstart vaccine programs.
The nation’s third potential vaccine candidate differs from Pfizer and Moderna in a few key ways. First of all, it requires just one dose, simplifying how the distribution would go for a Johnson & Johnson rollout. It can also be stored at least three months at regular refrigeration temperatures, around 35 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Nettles.
Currently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are more difficult to store and transport due to the instability of mRNA vaccines and require colder temperatures. City health officials hope to use the Johnson & Johnson candidate to launch a program for homebound seniors.
“We’ve been working with a number of different agencies and clinicians who have the experience of already taking care of people in their homes—for example, home-based primary care clinicians as well as visiting nurses who already provide many healthcare services in people’s homes,” said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. He added that the city is working with home-based primary care clinicians and visiting nurses as part of the plan.
Chokshi acknowledged there are still questions about the vaccine’s storage and handling requirements, but added: “Once we bring those two halves together, we will be ready to very rapidly do the door-to-door or in-home vaccination for homebound seniors.”
That could happen as soon as March, the commissioner said. It would be a part of other efforts to prioritize doses for home health aides doses and set up vaccine sites where many seniors live—like public housing and senior housing known as naturally occurring retirement communities.
Varma said health experts are still waiting to review the company’s full dataset and the FDA analysis this week.
Last month, the company announced its phase 3 trials showed the shot was 66% effective overall in preventing moderate-to-severe COVID-19 infection in the U.S. around four weeks after the dose was administered. The effectiveness was 72% in the U.S. and 57% in South Africa, where an immunity-evading variant originated and has now spread to New York.
Those stats are lower than the around 95% efficacy rates seen with the Pfizer and Moderna two-dose regimen. But the company says its candidate was still 85% effective in preventing severe disease—a critical stat for helping officials determine if the vaccine could reduce hospitalizations and deaths from coronavirus infection.