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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

March 1, 2021 by Anna Kovacevich

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in adults over the age of 18, making it the third vaccine to be approved for use in the United States. The authorization follows a recommendation from an independent advisory panel to the FDA, which convened Friday to review the data and subsequently voted to endorse the vaccine. Phase 3 trial data released in late January showed 66 percent efficacy overall in preventing moderate to severe disease 28 days after vaccination, 72 percent efficacy among participants in the United States, and complete protection against hospitalization and death due to COVID-19, which was reinforced by FDA analysis released in advance of the independent panel meeting last week. The shot—made by J&J’s vaccine division, Janssen—requires only one dose and can be shipped and stored using standard refrigeration. The United States has purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine, and distribution is expected to begin this week.

On Wednesday, 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India landed in Accra, Ghana, marking the COVAX Facility’s first delivery to the African continent. Ghana will begin its rollout of the doses early this week, prioritizing frontline health workers and others at high risk. The shipment, a first step toward COVAX’s goal of ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines around the world, was followed by a delivery to Cote d’Ivoire on Friday, and more shipments are expected in the coming days and months. COVAX intends to deliver nearly 2 billion vaccine doses this year, anticipated to cover up to 20 percent of participating countries’ populations.

Last week, Moderna reported it had developed a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine designed to specifically work against the B.1.351 COVID-19 variant, first identified in South Africa. The new vaccine has been sent to the National Institutes of Health, which will test to determine if using it as a booster shot would stimulate a strong immune response. Also last week, Pfizer and BioNTech announced they had initiated a study on the safety and immunogenicity of a third dose of their vaccine to evaluate the effect of a booster on immunity against currently circulating variants, as well as any potential new variants. Both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are mRNA based, allowing them to be updated relatively quickly by creating a modified mRNA sequence.

About the author

Anna KovacevichGHTC

Anna Kovacevich is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.