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Results for the J&J and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines, the South African variant in South Carolina and other COVID-19 vaccine news this week


Johnson & Johnson and a Maryland biotech company announced phase 3 results. Other COVID-19 vaccine news: WHO changes its advice for pregnant women, unofficial websites for looking up where you can get vaccinated, a call to stop hospital board members and donors from jumping the queue.

Johnson & Johnson announces results

Johnson & Johnson announced on Friday that its single-dose vaccine was 66% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. Those results suggest that the J&J vaccine will be less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that are currently available, but experts noted that the J&J’s vaccine was tested when new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine had started to circulate, so the efficacy comparison may not be apples-to-apples.

Putting aside the efficacy issue, the J&J vaccine does have the decided advantage of being a single- dose vaccine. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two inoculations.

“J&J one-dose Covid vaccine is 66% effective, a weapon but not a knockout punch,” was the Stat headline yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal reported that J&J plans to the ask the FDA for an emergency use authorization in early February. Judging by the speed at which the agency gave the go-ahead to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, an early February submission would mean the J&J vaccine might be available in late February or early March.

Novavax announces results

The day before J&J’s announcement, Novavax (Nasdaq: NVAX), a Gaithersburg, Maryland, biotech company announced results from its phase 3 clinical trial conducted in the United Kingdom. The company said he results show that its two-dose vaccine is 89.3% effective. With concern that an apparently growing number of SARS-CoV-2 variants will “escape” the immune response produced by the COVID-10 vaccines, Novavax noted that its trial was conducted when the more infectious (and possibly more harmful) U.K. strain — known as B.1.1.7 — of SARS-CoV-2 was circulating.

According to the Novavax press release, its vaccine was 95.6% effective against the original COVID-19 strain and 85.6% effective against the U.K. variant.

In the same press release, the biotech company announced the results of a phase 2b study in South Africa that showed 60% efficacy in a population that was HIV-negative; Fierce Biotech reported that the efficacy as 49.4% once HIV-positive individuals were included.

“The [Novavax] vaccine is the first to show it is effective against new variants during trials, with high levels of protection seen in the variant that first emerged in the UK and some protection against one first reported in South Africa,” reported CNN.

South African variant appears to be circulating in the U.S.

Speaking of SARS-CoV-2 variants, South Carolina health officials announced on Thursday that two cases of COVID-19 caused by the South African variant had occurred in the state. The announcement that there “was no known travel history” to explain the cases and no connection between the two people infected.

The CDC website notes that there are multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants are circulating. In addition to the U.K. and South African strains, there is one known as the Brazilian strain, or P.1., which the CDC says was first identified in four travelers from Brazil who were tested at the Haneda airport in Japan.

WHO reverses course on vaccine recommendations for pregnant women

The World Health Organization (WHO) reversed its previous COVID-19 vaccination advice for pregnant women on Friday. Previously, the global health organization had advised against vaccination unless the benefit of vaccinating a pregnant outweighed the risks. On Friday, the wording on the WHO website was changed to say that “based on what we know about this kind of vaccine, we don’t have any specific reason to believe there will be specific risks that would outweigh the benefits of vaccination for pregnant women. “ The “this kind of vaccine” refers to the Moderna vaccine.

The WHO and CDC vaccine recommendations for women are now similar. This is what the CDC recommendation says (the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines are both RNA vaccines):

Based on current knowledge, experts believe that mRNA vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to the pregnant person or the fetus because mRNA vaccines are not live vaccines. The mRNA in the vaccine is degraded quickly by normal cellular processes and does not enter the nucleus of the cell. However, the potential risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and the fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant people.

Websites about where you can get the vaccinated are popping up

The Wall Street Journal had a story this morning about the growing number of websites that allow people to look up where they can get a vaccine. Tech-savvy people in several states are creating the websites partly because the official vaccine websites have incomplete information or don’t function very well. Some of the websites mentioned in the WSJ story include VaccinateCA for California, Covid19VaccineTX.com for Texas and FindYourVaccine.org, which allows state-by-state look-ups of vaccine information.

Seattle mayor calls on state to stop hospitals from vaccinating donors, board members

Stories about people of privilege jumping the queue has become one of major subplots of the snafu-plagued distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The Seattle Times reported this week that three medical systems in the Seattle region — Providence Regional Medical Center, Overlake Medical Center & Clinics and EvergreenHealth — set up systems that gave board members and donors access to vaccination. The newspaper followed up with a story about Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan calling on state health officials to stop the practice and reallocate vaccines to community health centers.

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