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Friday, March 1, 2024

As new Covid vaccines near U.S. debut, here’s what you need to know about the shots

  • Johnson & Johnson and Novavax released promising news on their Covid-19 vaccines this week.
  • The introduction of two more Covid vaccines is welcome news as vaccine supply is severely constrained.
  • But with fresh reasons to be hopeful also came signals of caution, as the not-yet-authorized vaccines appeared to be less effective against some rapidly spreading strains of the virus.

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Pavlo Gonchar | LightRocket | Getty Images

Help is on the way.

This week, two companies released more news on their Covid-19 vaccines as they prepare to seek regulatory clearance, flashing signs of hope that the U.S. could soon have more weapons against the pandemic. But with fresh reasons to be hopeful also came signals of caution, as the not-yet-authorized vaccines appeared to be less effective against some rapidly spreading strains of the virus.

Biotech firm Novavax said Thursday that its vaccine was more than 89% effective in protecting against the disease in its phase three clinical trial conducted in the United Kingdom. And Johnson & Johnson added Friday that its single-dose shot was 66% effective overall in protecting against Covid-19. 

The introduction of two more vaccines could significantly bolster the world's arsenal of tools to drive back the virus and bring the pandemic to an end. And while J&J's vaccine appears to be significantly less effective in preventing disease than Moderna's and PfizerBioNTech's, officials said it's still effective enough to prove useful and the fact that it only requires one shot is a clear advantage.

With more vaccines entering the fray, here's what you need to know as you prepare to get your shot:

1. Who's eligible to get vaccinated?

Pfizer's vaccine has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use in people age 16 and older, while Moderna's vaccine has been authorized for people 18 and up.

J&J's vaccine hasn't been authorized yet. The company is expected to submit an application for emergency use authorization to the U.S. agency next week. The FDA review process is expected to take a few weeks, and the vaccine could be distributed across the U.S. as early as next month.

Meanwhile, it's unknown when the Novavax vaccine will be authorized for use in the U.S. Its phase three trial, the results of which were published Thursday, was conducted in the United Kingdom, and it's unclear if that will be enough for U.S. authorization. The company began a late-stage trial with 30,000 people in the U.S. and Mexico in late December.

With supply so constrained, states are rationing doses to those deemed most vulnerable and essential to society. While there is federal guidance on who should get the shots first, many states are charting their own course. But with the slower-than-expected rollout, the federal government urged states to open up eligibility to everyone 65 and older.

2. When will supply increase?

More than 48.4 million doses of vaccine have been distributed in the U.S. so far, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considering the two currently authorized vaccines are two-dose regimens, the U.S. would need more than 660 million shots to inoculate the entire public with the currently available vaccines.

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