Fauci welcomes new vaccine to U.S. arsenal against Covid-19

He said the J&J vaccine, despite its lower 72 percent success rate, presents a solid tool against “severe disease.”

By Dennis Romero

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top immunologist, said Friday a third coronavirus vaccine will add a necessary tool to the nation’s arsenal against the pandemic, despite its lower rate of effectiveness in research trials.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases spoke about the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, expected to be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization as early as next week, during an interview on “Nightly News with Lester Holt” Friday.

“The protection against severe disease is very high,” he said.

The vaccine has a 72 percent effective rate in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, Johnson & Johnson said earlier in the day. That compares to 95 percent for the Pfizer vaccine and 94 percent for Moderna’s version.

The J&J vaccine doesn’t require the unusually cold storage needed by the others and needs only basic refrigeration, the company said. The other two also require a second shot.

“From a practical standpoint,” Fauci said, ” … to keep people out of the hospital and prevent death—this is value added.”

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA to teach the immune system how to fight off the coronavirus. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses an inactivated adenovirus, a type of virus that causes the common cold, to do so.

Fauci isn’t reading a lot into the lower effective rate. In an earlier interview with the New York Press Club he said, “Seventy-two percent efficacious would have been, ‘Wow'” if the J&J vaccine was presented to the world before the others.

In fact, he said on “Nightly News with Lester Holt,” the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which he said produced no hospitalizations during trials, has its advantages.

“You can just keep it in a refrigerator,” he said. “It’s relatively cheap. And the company can make billions of doses.”

He said the addition of a third vaccine to the American arsenal can’t come soon enough, as inoculation will be the nation’s most effective weapon against mutations, including the U.K.-affiliated B.1.1.7 version and a South African variant.

The J&J vaccine, however, was found to be only 57 percent affective agains the latter. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be modified to attack new variants, Fauci said.

Until the pandemic is under control, the virus will continue to mutate in an attempt to survive and thrive, Fauci said. A majority of Americans need to be vaccinated for normal life to return by fall, he said.

“It’s not a question of can we,” the doctor said. “We have to do it.”

Dennis Romero writes for NBC News and is based in Los Angeles.