A single-shot vaccine developed by a US company may be approved in time to begin vaccinating millions of vulnerable people in the UK by next month, scientists and Whitehall officials believe.
Ministers hope the drug, developed by the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson and which uses similar technology to the Oxford vaccine, could be granted emergency authorisation within weeks.
The UK has already ordered 30 million doses of the Janssen vaccine, with the option of 22 million more, and officials believe supplies could arrive in time to help the Government hit its target of vaccinating the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February.
If approved by regulators, the Janssen drug would become the third vaccine to be rolled out at scale in the UK after the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs.
Vaccines secured by the government and current state of development
Sir John Bell, regius professor at Oxford University and an adviser to the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, said the drug was "highly likely to work" and could prove key to the speedy vaccination of the population.
"My prediction is that it’ll work well, although we need to wait for the trial results," he told The Telegraph. "I think they will have supplies available for the UK in a time frame that would allow it just to catch the mid-February target of getting the numbers up.
"I think it may well have a material impact on what we can do in the UK to get more people vaccinated."
Developed by Janssen, the Belgium-based pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, the vaccine uses a modified adenovirus like the Oxford vaccine, rather than the mNRA technology used by the Pfizer jab. It can be safely stored and transported at standard fridge temperature.
How the Janssen Pharmaceutica vaccine works
Unlike other candidates, however, major US trials have focused on its effectiveness as a single dose. If proved successful, single-dose Janssen jabs would accelerate the speed of roll-out, while protecting people from coronavirus in a matter of weeks.
The vaccine is currently going through final data examination and should be filing for approval from US, European and UK regulators in early February. Johnson & Johnson has said it is ready to ship doses from its factories in Europe as soon as it gets the green light.
In November, scientists launched a trial involving around 30,000 people globally including 6,000 people in the UK to observe the effects of spacing out the Janssen jab in two doses, which may help the vaccine work even better and last longer.
Professor Saul Faust, director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility and the chief investigator leading the trial, said: “We are really hopeful of good results from the single dose trial. Johnson & Johnson are a large drug company, experienced at making vaccines, who know how to make and transport vaccines at pace and scale, if it works.”
He added: “We need all the vaccines, and it might well be that one dose will be approved by the regulators for emergency use.
“But we don’t know yet. And we won’t know until the trials are done.”