5 things to know about the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine

Hundreds of thousands of doses of Canada's fourth approved vaccine have arrived, but distribution is on hold over a potential tainting issue

David Carrigg 2 days ago

Last week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed a fourth COVID-19 vaccine — made by Johnson & Johnson — would be available soon in British Columbia.

With a first shipment expected to be distributed shortly, here’s some things to know about the vaccine.

MORE THAN JUST BABY SHAMPOO

Johnson & Johnson is already a household name due to products like Band-Aid, Tylenol and Baby Shampoo.

However, the New Jersey-based company also has a pharmaceutical line pharmaceutical arm — called Janssen Pharmaceutica- that started work on a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as the pandemic began.

HOW IS THE J&J VACCINE DIFFERENT?

The most important difference between the J & J vaccine and the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines is that it requires just one dose. This is a big deal. Administering a second dose is crucial to effectiveness of the other vaccines, and is also a challenge for Dr. Henry who has made a decision to delay second doses as long as possible in order to give as many people as possible a first dose of vaccine.

Henry says this means people who may be difficult to track down for their second dose could take the J&J vaccine.

“This is a single dose vaccine and it’s fridge stable once it’s been thawed and repackaged and shipped to us, so that gives us some flexibility in targeting certain populations, particularly people who may be challenging to find for Dose 2,” Henry said last Monday.

The vaccine is DNA based, like AstraZeneca, and different from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are mRNA vaccines. These all use the virus’ genetic code to promote an antibody response, but enter the cells differently.

WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE APPROVED AND ARE USING J&J?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved J&J in February and has ordered hundreds of millions of doses. The FDA suspended use of the vaccine for a short time last month due to blood-clot side effects.

Canada approved the vaccine last month and has ordered 10 million doses in total, with an option to buy 28 million more. None have been administered yet.

The European Union also approved the drug last month and has ordered 400 million doses. Spain has already begun administering the vaccine.

PROBLEMS ON ARRIVAL

Canada has already received its first 300,000 dose shipment of the J&J vaccine but it has not been distributed after Health Canada learned some of the vaccines were made at a Maryland facility that botched the earlier production of 15 million doses.

The Emergent Biosolutions facility in Baltimore was recently cited by the FDA for violations including cleaning and sterilization failures, the potential for cross-contamination and failure to follow required protocols.

Health Canada said Friday it’s seeking information from the FDA and J&J’s pharmaceutical arm, Janssen, to determine if the doses shipped to Canada meet required safety standards.

HOW MUCH WILL B.C. GET?

All vaccines are distributed through Health Canada on a per capita basis. That means B.C., with around 13 per cent of the national population, is in line for around 40,000 doses from the first shipment. Of the 10 million doses on order, B.C. is entitled to 1.3 million doses.

dcarrigg@postmedia.com

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