Kerry Dooley Young, Medscape Medical News: February 26, 2021
An FDA advisory panel lent their support today to a rapid clearance for Janssen/Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to quickly provide an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the vaccine following the recommendation by the panel.
The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted 22-0 on this question: Based on the totality of scientific evidence available, do the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine outweigh its risks for use in individuals 18 years of age and older?
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to offer more convenient dosing and be easier to distribute than the two rival products already available in the United States. Janssen’s vaccine is intended to be given in a single dose. In December, the FDA granted EUAs for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which are each two-dose regimens.
Several researchers called on the FDA to maintain a critical attitude when assessing Johnson & Johnson’s application for the EUA, warning of a potential for a permanent erosion of agency rules due to hasty action on COVID vaccines.
They raised concerns about the FDA demanding too little in terms of follow-up studies on COVID vaccines and with persisting murkiness resulting in attempts to determine how well these treatments work beyond the initial study period.
“I worry about FDA lowering its approval standards,” said Peter Doshi, PhD, from The BMJ and a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, during an open public hearing at the meeting.
“There’s a real urgency to stand back right now and look at the forest here, as well as the trees, and I urge the committee to consider the effects FDA decisions may have on the entire regulatory approval process,” Doshi said.
Doshi asked why Johnson & Johnson did not seek a standard full approval — a biologics license application (BLA) — instead of aiming for the lower bar of an EUA. The FDA already has allowed wide distribution of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines through EUAs. That removes the sense of urgency that FDA faced last year in his view.
The FDA’s June 2020 guidance on the development of COVID vaccines had asked drug makers to plan on following participants in COVID vaccine trials for “ideally at least one to two years.” Yet people who got placebo in Moderna and Pfizer trials already are being vaccinated, Doshi said. And Johnson & Johnson said in its presentation to the FDA that if the Ad26.COV2.S vaccine were granted an EUA, the COV3001 study design would be amended to “facilitate cross-over of placebo participants in all participating countries to receive one dose of active study vaccine as fast as operationally feasible.”
“I’m nervous about the prospect of there never being a COVID vaccine that meets the FDA’s approval standard” for a BLA instead of the more limited EUA, Doshi said.
Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, noted that the FDA’s subsequent guidance tailored for EUAs for COVID vaccines “drastically shortened” the follow-up time to a median of 2 months. Zuckerman said that a crossover design would be “a reasonable compromise, but only if the placebo group has at least 6 months of data.” Zuckerman opened her remarks in the open public hearing by saying she had inherited Johnson & Johnson stock, so was speaking at the meeting against her own financial interest.
“As soon as a vaccine is authorized, we start losing the placebo group. If FDA lets that happen, that’s a huge loss for public health and a huge loss of information about how we can all stay safe,” Zuckerman said.
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