By Orville Williams
Following the disclosure that some Covid-19 variants have increased in prevalence, the Health Ministry has received a new weapon in the fight, a batch of single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The Ministry announced that development via its Facebook page yesterday, saying the 38,400 doses were procured from the African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), facilitated by the CARICOM Secretariat.
The Director of Pharmaceutical Services, Alfred Athill, received the batch of vaccines on behalf of Ministry at the VC Bird International Airport Friday morning.
With the addition of these doses, the country’s vaccine options now stand at five – including the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sinopharm and Sputnik V – and the timing is certainly on point, as two variants of concern have been steadily affecting more people.
Information Minister, Melford Nicholas, shared details on the situation, following a recent meeting with the country’s Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Teri-Ann Joseph.
“The Acting Chief Medical Officer did share with us that they have increased the number of samples that are sent to [the Caribbean Public Health Agency] CARPHA for the validation of the variants.
“Alarmingly, she has indicated that the two most dominant infections that they have are shared between the Delta variant – at approximately 51 percent of the samples sent – and the Alpha variant with another 30-plus percent.
“The other variants are of negligible proportions as far as she has indicated,” Nicholas said.
Johnson & Johnson announced early last month that its single-dose vaccine generated strong, persistent activity against the rapidly spreading Delta variant and other highly-prevalent variants.
In addition, it said data showed that the durability of the immune response lasted through at least eight months, the length of time evaluated to date.
Though it has been previously marketed as a single-dose vaccine, it is not yet clear how the vaccine will be administered locally, as on Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson reported that a second dose raises antibody levels against the virus – this, based on data gathered from a study that includes a weekly testing regime across six US states.
In a statement, the company said when participants received a booster shot at six months, their spike-binding antibodies increased about nine times higher than after the first dose.
Its researchers also reportedly found that the ‘booster shot’ increased the supply of immune cells in the body, which can attack the cells infected with the virus.
Johnson & Johnson will submit the data to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is evaluating similar studies from Pfizer and Moderna.
According to US media reports, the FDA could authorise booster shots for Americans in September, which could be available to people eight months after their last vaccination.