Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine trials underway in Texas

Texas Coronavirus Vaccine

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With continued challenges accessing a COVID-19 vaccine, there’s hope on the horizon. Right now a clinical trial is underway in Austin for Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. The single-shot vaccine is expected to receive authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as early as next week.

Benchmark Research started its clinical trial about two months ago and has 18 participants. So far, research has found:

  • The vaccine is 72% effective in the U.S. and 66% effective overall at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, 28 days after vaccination
  • 85% effective overall in preventing severe disease and demonstrated complete protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death as of day 28

Billy Bowers joined the Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinical trials in December through Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas.

“I had a sore arm a little bit, and I had chills for three or four hours that morning, but other than that, that was it,” Bowers said.

He says diabetes and heart issues prompted him to become part of what he calls a solution.

“If they took all 20 and 30 year olds for this trial, they wouldn’t get much information, they need to see what it’s going to do to someone like me,” Bowers explained.

Researchers say in addition to only being a single dose, in comparison to Moderna and Pfizer’s two-dose vaccinations, it can be stored in a regular refrigerator. 

“It doesn’t have the stringent cold storage process. It makes it much more accessible to folks in the rural areas and much more accessible to much of the world,” explained Robert Gottlieb, MD, PhD, a principal investigator for the Johnson & Johnson trial at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Experts say the vaccine uses DNA combined with a weakened virus to get into the body, prompting an immune response that shows the body how to fight off COVID-19. Although the single dose option isn’t as strong as Pfizer and Moderna’s two doses, Johnson & Johnson is also working on a two-dose trial. One of those is happening through Benchmark Research.

“The conventional scientific wisdom now is this study that’s taking place with Johnson & Johnson that will be a two-dose vaccine, will bring it closer to the 95% efficacy range,” explained Mark Lacey, CEO of Benchmark Research.

The trials are now in the final phases. Researchers expect at least a single shot of the vaccine to get in arms by the end of February.

Doctors encourage people to get whatever vaccine is available to them, because it will help inoculate more of the population and stop the spread of the virus. Researchers say Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines can be altered to address COVID-19 variants.

The Texas Department of State Health Services told KXAN there is a limited vaccine supply, but the introduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would make things simpler on the allocation and administration end. The manufacturer is waiting on the emergency use authorization in order for it to be immediately distributed.

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