On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson announced that it had commenced Phase 3 trials for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. While it is not the first pharmaceutical giant to hit this milestone — Moderna and Pfizer have already moved to Phase 3 in the United States alone — Johnson & Johnson’s candidate, which is based on an ebola vaccine the company had previously produced, boasts two major advantage over competitors: it only requires one shot, not two; and it does not need to be stored in subzero temperatures. Both of these factors could make administering the vaccine to hundreds of millions of people easier than other candidates.
For its phase 3 trials, the company has begun to test the efficacy of the vaccine on an unusually large sample: 60,000 people, spread across the U.S., South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru — all countries where the coronavirus is still raging, and thus fertile ground for vaccine testing. The company said it might know whether the vaccine is fully effective by the end of 2020.
President Trump has attempted to pressure the FDA to give the green light to a vaccine as soon as possible, hinting at a big announcement before the election. But the agency, attempting to maintain its credibility as public trust in a vaccine plummets, is taking pains to emphasize that it will not rush anything out the door under political pressure. Earlier this month, nine pharmaceutical giants, including Johnson & Johnson pledged that they would not cut corners in their quest to deliver COVID-19 immunity. The consensus among scientists and public-health officials is that a vaccine will not be widely available to the public until well into 2021 at the earliest.