Medical syringes are seen with Johnson & Johns
Medical syringes are seen with Johnson & Johnson company logo displayed on a screen in the background in this illustration photo taken in Poland on October 13, 2020. (Getty)
  • Johnson & Johnson has cut the number of participants in the US trial of its vaccine to 40,000 – from the target of 60,000 previously.
  • This is because cases in the US are skyrocketing, and participants are much likelier to be exposed to the virus - testing the vaccine's efficacy.
  • The vaccine will be packaged in South Africa, only requires a single dose and will likely be much cheaper than some other vaccines.
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Johnson & Johnson confirmed that it will now only trial its vaccine among 40,000 people in the US – down from the planned 60,000 – as Covid-19 cases skyrocket in that country.

“Given the high incidence of Covid-19 among the general population, we expect that approximately 40,000 participants will generate the data needed to determine the safety and efficacy of our investigational Covid-19 vaccine candidate,” J&J told the Financial Times.  The company already has close to 40,000 people enrolled in the US.

On average, more than 200,000 Americans are now testing positive for the coronavirus every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. This means participants are much likelier to be exposed to the virus, testing the vaccine's efficacy.

On Wednesday, authorities reported more than 3,000 deaths in a single day in the US – the highest number yet.

Johnson & Johnson is also testing the vaccine among South Africans, as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Last month, J&J struck a deal with local pharmaceutical giant Aspen to package 300 million doses in Port Elizabeth.

READ | Johnson & Johnson’s proposed Covid vaccine may soon be produced in PE – here’s what we know

While it’s not clear whether this will ensure preferential access for South Africans, there is excitement about the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose – not two, like most of the other vaccines.

READ | SA will have vaccine by mid-2021, but must be one dose only, says top Covid advisor prof Karim

Also, it should be much cheaper. In a deal with the US government, Johnson & Johnson priced its vaccine at about $10 (R150) per dose – much lower than the Pfizer ($19 per dose) and Moderna ($25 to $37 per dose) vaccines, Forbes reported.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate – known as JNJ-78436735 – is delivered by a harmless virus called Adenovirus 26, a human virus uncommon in nature so most people have not developed immunity to it, reports USA Today.

Using the same adenovirus, Johnson & Johnson recently developed an Ebola vaccine candidate – which was approved by the European Union in July.

The company previously said that the first batches of the vaccine could be available for emergency use as soon as January. The EU has already concluded a deal with Johnson & Johnson for 400 million doses of the vaccine.

If the vaccine is approved, and an agreement between the two companies is concluded, Aspen could start manufacturing the vaccine in the second quarter of 2021, Aspen’s deputy CEO Gus Attridge previously told Business Insider. 

The local company will manage the formulation, filling and secondary packaging of the vaccine and supply it to Johnson & Johnson.

For its part, Johnson & Johnson told Business Insider SA that it wants to allocate up to 500 million vaccine doses to lower income countries, with delivery beginning mid next year. 

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