The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine seems to work better against the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa than data initially suggested.
The variant, which is thought to be more contagious, currently makes up the majority of cases in South Africa and has been found in several countries, including in the United States.
According to a US Food and Drug Administration’s briefing document released Wednesday, the vaccine showed a 64% efficacy rate in South Africa. That’s seven points higher than what was reported in interim data released by the company in January.
Since that time, Johnson & Johnson did additional sequencing and determined there were more cases that could be included in its analysis from South Africa. Nearly 95% of the cases in the study in South Africa came from the variant, according to the addendum to the analysis.
"The fact that the numbers came up a little bit, once they fully analyzed the data from the time of the initial press release, shows that it's not that different against the South African variant," said Dr. Philip Grant, who was the lead investigator on the Stanford University arm of the J&J vaccine trial. "I think it's going to have to be looked at more carefully, in terms of which vaccines are most effective in different locations."
The vaccine has a 72% efficacy rate in the US and a more than 68% rate in Brazil at protecting people from mild to severe/critical disease.
The vaccine offered nearly 86% protection against severe forms of the disease in the US, nearly 82% in South Africa and nearly 88% in Brazil.
Experts have said variants may fuel a surge of cases in the US, and that’s one reason why it’s important to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.