Johnson & Johnson’s 1-dose vaccine cleared in US

This July 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine in Belgium. (Johnson & Johnson via AP, File)

The US is getting a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19, as the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.

Health experts are anxiously awaiting a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations, as they race against a virus that already has killed more than 510,000 people in the US and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways.

The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalisations and death. One dose was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents — protection that remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading.

J&J initially is providing a few million doses and shipments to states could begin as early as Monday. By the end of March, J&J has said it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the US, and 100 million by summer.

J&J also is seeking authorisation for emergency use of its vaccine in Europe and from the World Health Organization. The company aims to produce about 1 billion doses globally by the end of the year. 

In the US, the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were 95% protective against symptomatic COVID-19. J&J’s one-dose effectiveness of 85% against severe COVID-19 dropped to 66% when moderate cases were rolled in. 

The J&J vaccine also is easier to handle, lasting three months in the refrigerator compared to the Pfizer and Moderna options, which must be frozen.