Pharmaceutical company Janssen Pharmaceutica-Cilag NV, part of the Johnson & Johnson group, has started shipping its single-dose vaccine against coronavirus to EU countries, European Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said on Monday.
On October 8th, the Brussels committee reached an agreement with American company Johnson & Johnson to purchase 200 million doses of the vaccine, with the option of purchasing an additional 200 million doses. The U.S. pledged to deliver about 55 million doses to EU countries by the end of June and another 120 million from July to September.
The European Commission granted a conditional marketing authorization in mid-March for the vaccine developed by the company against Covid-19. The Janssen vaccine would be the fourth one to be used in the European Union, apart from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford University’s AstraZeneca.
Hungary also ordered a total of 4.36 million doses of the Janssen vaccine. According to a recent report, the first shipment containing enough vaccines for a total of 28,800 people has arrived in Hungary, the head of the epidemiology department of the National Public Health Center (NNK) announced on Tuesday. Ágnes Galgóczi stated that the doses arrived frozen and are still stored, its delivery will start only after thawing. She said the Janssen vaccine is planned to be transported to small settlements by military buses and vaccination is expected to begin on Monday. Cecília Müller, Chief Medical Officer, emphasized that together with the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, there will be six vaccines available in Hungary.
How does the vaccine work?
According to Johnson & Johnson, one of the great benefits of the vaccine developed by the company is that it only requires a single dose to have protection – as opposed to the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Sinopharm. However, it is not yet known whether the jab will prevent the vaccinated carriers from passing the virus on to others, so those who have already been vaccinated will probably still have to follow rules on wearing a mask and social distancing.
The vaccine, licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), was developed using a similar technology to AstraZeneca and Sputnik V. It is made up of another virus (an adenovirus), modified to contain the gene for making the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This is a protein in the SARS-CoV-2 virus which it needs to enter the body’s cells. The adenovirus passes the SARS-CoV-2 gene into the vaccinated person’s cells. The cells can then use the gene to produce the spike protein. The person’s immune system will recognize the spike protein as foreign and produce antibodies and activate T cells (white blood cells) to target it. Later, if the person comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2 virus, the person’s immune system will recognize the spike protein on the virus and be ready to defend the body against it.
Another huge advantage, apart from needing only one dose for protection, is that the Janssen vaccine does not require an extreme cold environment to be stored. Due to the fact that the adenovirus introduced contains coronavirus DNA rather than RNA, the vaccine persists at much higher temperatures than Pfizer’s vaccine, for instance. In practice, this means that it can be stored at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for three months, so a larger amount can be placed with any GP. Furthermore, according to the company, the vaccine can be stored at -20 degrees Celsius for two years.
How effective is the vaccine?
Phase 3 testing of the vaccine was completed in mid-December. According to the manufacturer, the protection achieved by their product against moderate to severe forms of Covid-19 disease was 72 per cent in the United States, 66 per cent in Latin America, and 57 per cent in South Africa. According to the company’s tests, the vaccine provided 85 per cent protection against the development of the most severe symptoms in tests conducted in the United States and seven other countries.
The British variant, which has become dominant in Hungary during the third wave, causes many headaches, because it spreads significantly faster, and analyses suggest that it can cause more serious illness. The good news, however, is that all approved vaccines are effective against it based on studies to date.
Potential side effects
So far, it has been observed that mild side effects may occur after the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to these observations, pain, redness, or swelling may occur at the point of injection, while patients may occasionally experience headache, fatigue, fever, nausea, and muscle pain. In rare cases, it may cause severe allergic reactions, which may occur between two minutes and one hour after the vaccine has been administered. Therefore, the manufacturer recommends monitoring patients for this period. Allergic reactions can include shortness of breath, swelling of the face and throat, rapid heartbeat, the appearance of rashes, dizziness, and weakness.
Moreover, it has been recently reported that EU regulators started reviewing the Janssen vaccine as blood clots were formed in six patients vaccinated with the vaccine, mirroring similar problems reported with the AstraZeneca vaccine. One person reportedly died, and one case was also seen in clinical trials. In light of these events, in the United States, federal health agencies on Tuesday called for an immediate pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination. According to a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, there is no clear relationship between the rare events and the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, however, she added that the company is working with regulators as more data comes in and supports “open communication” of any new findings with healthcare providers in order to monitor risks.
Featured photo illustration by MTI/AP/Rogelio V. Solis