Los Angeles Times

FDA advisors recommend booster shot for J&J vaccine

Despite its misgivings, the panel says second COVID doses should be widely available.


U.S. health advisors on Friday voted to shore up protection for more than 15 million Americans who have relied on Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for protection against the coronaviru­s, urging the Food and Drug Administra­tion to green-light a booster dose for those who got their jab at least two months earlier.

The unanimous vote came a day after the FDA’s independen­t advisory panel on vaccines recommende­d boosters be made available to virtually any adult vaccinated at least six months earlier with the COVID-19

vaccine made by Moderna.

Panel members’ solid support for boosters came despite their widely expressed misgivings. The cases that both manufactur­ers made for the extra shots often fell short of showing that all vaccine recipients need boosters, or that making them universall­y available would be safe.

But with the pandemic’s persistenc­e, along with mounting evidence that the protection afforded by all COVID-19 vaccines has waned, the advisors said the FDA must make booster shots widely accessible to virtually all who want them.

If the agency agrees, the expansive endorsemen­t could still be narrowed. Another group of advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may recommend that access to booster shots be prioritize­d for certain groups.

The CDC could adopt narrower recommenda­tions or leave it to vaccinated adults and their doctors to decide whether a booster shot would make sense.

That decision could be made more complex with the unveiling of new findings on mixing and matching vaccines of different design and formulatio­n.

A federally funded study that is still underway suggests that when initial doses of one U.S.-made vaccine are supplement­ed with a booster dose of another, coronaviru­s antibody levels rose dramatical­ly.

Although still preliminar­y, the findings turned up no evidence that serious adverse reactions increased when disparate COVID-19 vaccines are used together.

“In the real world all these kind of combinatio­ns are already happening, so I think it’s a matter of some urgency for the FDA to help sort out what is admittedly a complicate­d and challengin­g scenario,” said Dr. Ofer Levy of Boston Children’s Hospital.

At Friday’s meeting, advisory committee members were frustrated with data that were often scant, brief in their follow-up and focused on only one part of humans’ vaccine response — the production of immune proteins called antibodies.

But the committee, made up of experts in vaccines, viruses, immunity and public health, also expressed worry that if it withheld support for boosters, vaccinated Americans could die in yet another wave of illnesses.

New coronaviru­s infections are beginning to slow nationally. But on Thursday, Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s chief of drug and vaccine evaluation, reminded the panel that further waves have been predicted by credible modeling groups, and the risk that they’ll come to pass cannot be ruled out.

“We can’t simply look at what’s going on in the pandemic curve right now and call it a day,” Marks said. “We do have to think ahead.”

A little over 15 million Americans have received a dose of the J&J vaccine, and more than 19 million additional doses have been administer­ed across the globe.

The J&J vaccines won widespread support among both the FDA’s and CDC’s independen­t advisors “because of where it could go and what it could do,” said Oveta Fuller, a University of Michigan immunologi­st who serves on the FDA advisory panel. That’s because it’s easier to transport and administer than the mRNA formulatio­ns made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

Because it was thought to confer complete protection after a single dose, the J&J vaccine was widely used in population­s that might not return for second doses

because of job demands, transporta­tion challenges and scant access to doctors.

If the FDA accepts its advisory panel’s recommenda­tion, the “one and done” vaccine could begin to look more like the two-dose vaccine regimens of PfizerBioN­Tech and Moderna.

J&J on Friday presented evidence that after about five months, a shot of the vaccine reduced the risk of moderate to severe COVID-19 by roughly 45%, and reduced the risk of severe or critical disease by 72%.

Booster doses administer­ed two to six months after a first dose more than tripled the number of virusblock­ing antibodies in study participan­ts, and in some cases increased them by a factor of six or more, J&J representa­tives said.

Older vaccine recipients saw greater increases in antibodies than younger ones. And those getting a booster close to six months from their first shot experience­d a steeper rise in antibodies than those who got boosted two months after their first jab.

But the J&J studies that reflected conditions in the U.S. had small numbers of recruits; in one study, the outcomes of just 81 study participan­ts were used to make the case for boosters.

The small research population­s and short follow-up of subjects also prompted concerns about whether any new safety risks tied to boosters would be detected before additional shots were made available to the public.

The initial rollout of COVID-19 vaccines made by Moderna and J&J was roiled by concerns over side effects, including certain types of heart inflammati­on in some younger people who received the Moderna vaccine and a highly unusual blood disorder linked to the J&J vaccine. Both conditions are considered extremely rare, and neither Moderna nor J&J found evidence that they became more common with the boosters.

But each company acknowledg­ed that such rare adverse events might not be detected until much larger groups begin taking them.

 ?? Genaro Molina Los Angeles Times ?? SHANE CURRAN receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 29 in Los Angeles. FDA advisors recommend booster shots for those who got the J&J inoculatio­n.
Genaro Molina Los Angeles Times SHANE CURRAN receives the Johnson & Johnson vaccine April 29 in Los Angeles. FDA advisors recommend booster shots for those who got the J&J inoculatio­n.
 ?? Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images ?? NURSE Christina Garibay holds a dose of the “one and done” COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson.
Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images NURSE Christina Garibay holds a dose of the “one and done” COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States