The World Health Organization listed the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine for emergency use Friday, paving the way for the distribution of the single-dose jab to poorer countries.
The listing today follows the EU’s green light on Thursday and means that countries set to receive vaccines through COVAX, the mechanism for equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines, could use the WHO’s assessment to roll out the Johnson & Johnson jab. However, at the moment, the vaccines are only expected to start being rolled out through COVAX in July, with the WHO saying it was working with the company to bring this date forward.
COVAX could receive up to 500 million doses, after having signed an agreement in principle with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, in December. At the time, it was expected that 100 million doses would be available to COVAX this year, with Gavi having the opportunity to order another 100 million in 2021. The remaining 300 million would be available to order in 2022.
“We hope that this new vaccine will help to narrow vaccine inequalities and not deepen them,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today.
Tedros also pointed to shortages of supplies needed to make vaccines, warning that this “could put the supply of routine childhood vaccines at risk.”
“Some countries have imposed legal restrictions on the export of critical supplies,” he said. “This is putting lives at risk around the world.”
This is the third vaccine to receive emergency use listing from the WHO, following Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech. COVAX is currently rolling out doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with a much smaller number of BioNTech/Pfizer doses expected to be delivered to a handful of countries participating in COVAX in the first quarter.
The fact that the vaccine is a single-dose regimen means that it’s significantly quicker to roll out. But one shortfall is that it needs to be kept at minus 20 °C for long-term storage, which “may prove challenging in some environments,” the WHO warned. However, the vaccine can be stored at between two and eight degrees for three months.