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Coronavirus update: J&J vaccine 72% effective in US trial; South African strain found in US

Anjalee Khemlani
·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
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Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Novavax (NVAX) revealed the efficacy of their vaccines, including how they stood up to more transmissible and somewhat more resilient strains.

Johnson & Johnson announced Friday its vaccine was 72% efficacious in the U.S., though globally the efficacy dropped to 66%.

The difference in efficacy shows the gap in effectiveness against strains from South Africa and Brazil. In South Africa, the efficacy dropped to 57%, while in Latin America it was 66% effective.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had set expectations of a good vaccine at 60% efficacious, after initially saying 50% would be acceptable.

The efficacy rate is lower than the approximately 95% efficacy of existing mRNA vaccines — two-dose shots — but higher than the 62% efficacy seen in U.K. trials for AstraZeneca’s (AZN) two full doses — which uses a similar technology.

The company has been planning to rollout vaccines as soon as it receives emergency use authorization, which it will file for next week, according to Mathai Mammen, global R&D head of Janssen, J&J’s pharmaceutical arm.

“It’s likely towards the end of February that we would get emergency use authorization, and we’d scale rapidly from there,” Mammen told Yahoo Finance in an interview Friday.

Meanwhile, Novavax (NVAX) revealed its COVID-19 vaccine was 89.3% efficacious in a U.K. Phase 3 trial Thursday, setting expectations for similar results in ongoing U.S. and Mexico Phase 3 trials for its two-dose shot.

Novavax said its vaccines are ready-to-use and can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures.

The company noted its trial was able to capture incidents of the U.K. strain (B.1.1.7) and held up well against it. Similarly, in a Phase 2b trial being conducted in South Africa, the vaccine remained effective against the new strain (B.1.351)— but, as seen in Moderna’s (MRNA) recent study, efficacy waned.

“A primary benefit of our adjuvanted platform is that it uses a very small amount of antigen, enabling the rapid creation and large-scale production of combination vaccine candidates that could potentially address multiple circulating strains of COVID-19,” said Novavax president of R&D, Dr. Gregory Glenn.

The vaccine was 60% effective in South Africa, with 90% of the positive cases attributed to the new strain.

“These data suggest that prior infection with COVID-19 may not completely protect against subsequent infection by the South Africa escape variant, however, vaccination with NVX-CoV2373 provided significant protection,” according to Novavax.

Photo by: STRF/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 1/29/21 Johnson&Johnson vaccine shown 72% effective in U.S. in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. STAR MAX Photo: Johnson&Johnson logo and Coronavirus background photographed off Apple devices.
Photo by: STRF/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 1/29/21 Johnson&Johnson vaccine shown 72% effective in U.S. in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. STAR MAX Photo: Johnson&Johnson logo and Coronavirus background photographed off Apple devices.

New variant found

The news from both companies provides some comfort as experts worry about ramping up vaccinations in light of new variants.

South Carolina confirmed two cases of the South African strain Thursday, giving the U.S. a confirmed presence of three of the most concerning strains globally. Minnesota confirmed the first case of the Brazil (P.1) strain, and more than 379 cases of the U.K. (B.1.1.7) strain have been recorded.

The news comes as no surprise to health experts, who have suspected the variant is already spreading in the country.

Health officials have noted the U.S. is 43rd in the world in genomic sequencing of the virus, which is why other countries have identified strains. This week, California was the first to identify a domestic strain responsible for 25% of recent cases.

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