Covid-19 roundup: Study shows J&J's shot is much less effective against Delta variant; Novartis open to manufacturing other coronavirus vaccines — report
As the Delta variant rapidly spreads across the US — accounting for 83% of the country’s cases, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said yesterday — a new study shows the concerning strain renders Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 shot much less effective.
The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, showed that neutralizing titers induced by J&J’s vaccine decreased 5.4-fold against the “Delta plus” variant, a mutation that scientists say allows the virus to better attack the lungs. In comparison, titers induced by Pfizer/BioNTech’s candidate decreased by 2.7-fold against the Delta plus variant, and levels dropped 3.3-fold for Moderna’s candidate.
“The message that we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J&J vaccine, but we hope that in the future, it will be boosted with either another dose of J&J or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” Nathaniel Landau, a virologist who led the study, told the New York Times.
That conclusion differs from a statement J&J made earlier this month, in which it claimed the vaccine demonstrated “strong, persistent activity” against the Delta variant. J&J said the shot showed a durable immune response through at least eight months post-vaccination.
“Current data for the eight months studied so far show that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine generates a strong neutralizing antibody response that does not wane; rather, we observe an improvement over time,” said Mathai Mammen, global head of Janssen’s R&D.
Distribution of J&J’s vaccine was paused briefly in the US earlier this year over concerns of rare but sometimes fatal blood clots. The FDA and CDC lifted the pause back in April after deciding the shot’s known and potential benefits still outweigh the risks, and updating fact sheets to include a risk of blood clots and low levels of platelets.
Earlier this month, the FDA issued a second warning for the vaccine, adding that there are data “connecting the shot to an increased risk” of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare condition where the body’s immune system attacks its nerves.
Novartis open to manufacturing other Covid-19 vaccines — report
While Novartis no longer has a vaccines business, the Swiss pharma has offered its manufacturing services to help produce two mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 — and according to a Reuters report, it’s open to helping other companies as well.
Back in March, Novartis announced it would help manufacture bulk drug substance for CureVac’s mRNA-based Covid-19 shot, dubbed CVnCoV, at its Kundl, Austria site. The company also jumped in to help manufacture Pfizer/BioNTech’s ultra-effective vaccine back in January.
On Wednesday, finance chief Harry Kirsch told reporters Novartis is on track to deliver 50 million doses of CureVac’s vaccine this year.
While the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna both achieved efficacy rates higher than 90%, CureVac said last month that its jab was only 48% effective in a pivotal trial.
While regulators have set the efficacy bar at 50% for new Covid-19 vaccines, CEO Franz-Werner Haas said he still intends to seek licensure for the vaccine, particularly in the EU and for certain age groups that performed better in the trial.
CureVac said the vaccine was 53% effective at preventing symptomatic disease in trial participants 60 years old and younger. And if you exclude mild cases as well as those older than 60, the vaccine was 77% effective at preventing moderate to severe symptoms, CureVac said.
This article has been corrected to reflect that CureVac’s vaccine was 53% effective in trial participants 60 years old and younger. A previous version incorrectly stated that the vaccine was 53% effective in only those younger than 60.