Johnson & Johnson has only a few million doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in its inventory even as likely US regulatory authorization is only a few weeks away.
The White House says J&J remains committed to providing 100 million doses by June, but deliveries are likely to be ‘back-end loaded.’
‘Across the last few weeks we’ve learned that there is not a big inventory of Johnson & Johnson. There’s a few million doses that we’ll start with,’ Jeffrey Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a telephone press conference today.
The United States has been struggling to hasten its vaccine rollout because of a limited supply of doses.
Experts have hung their hopes for making up the supply gaps on Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose shot.
But today’s revelations that just a few million doses are available suggest J&J’s shot won’t do much for rollout for weeks or months.
Regulators are scheduled to meet and offer a recommendation as to whether or not J&J’s shot should be authorized in the US on February 26.
The vaccine is particularly highly anticipated because it is inexpensive, easy to store – it only needs to be kept at refrigerator temperatures, not frozen – and requires just one dose.
Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines require two doses and have to be kept at freezing or ultra-cold temperatures.
J&J’s shot has the advantage of protecting the same number or people with half the supply and being easy to transport.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that, for these reasons, the city will use Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to inoculate some 136,000 homebound seniors who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 but have no easy way to get to mass vaccination centers.
But with only a few million doses immediately available, whatever supply New York City gets won’t stretch very far.
Dr Anthony Fauci also hinted Tuesday at the limited supply of J&J, saying he was ‘disappointed’ by the number of doses the US would get from the firm up front, during a CNN interview.
He also said that low US supply would mean that vaccines won’t be available to the general public until late May, walking back his previous optimism for ‘open season’ on shots to begin in April.
White House Covid Response coordinator Jeff Zients said most of the J&J shot won’t arrive until late, likely in the second half of May or in June, after authorization.
Pfizer and Moderna Inc have promised to deliver 200 million doses of their two-dose vaccines by the end of March but so far fewer than 72 million doses have been shipped around the US and around 55 million shots have been given.
The US paid J&J $1 billion in August to help fund the development of its vaccine in exchange for a guarantee of 100 million doses and an option to buy 200 million more.
It also provided J&J with $456 million in March.
The Biden administration has promised to explore every option available to aid drugmakers, including J&J, in boosting vaccine production.
It said it is deploying wartime powers through the Defense Production Act to help them secure needed supplies.
J&J’s experimental shot involves a single dose and can be stored in refrigerators as opposed to freezers, which could help speed up vaccinations.
Zients said the vaccine could be authorized in a couple of weeks.
It is scheduled to be reviewed on February 26 by a panel of outside advisors to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). J&J requested FDA authorization earlier this month.