The World Health Organization granted emergency authorization on Friday to Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, adding the first one-dose option to the W.H.O.’s global arsenal against the pandemic.
The designation makes the vaccine eligible for distribution through Covax, a global initiative to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to vaccines. Many of those countries have barely begun their vaccination campaigns.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has advantages for countries in that program. Besides providing powerful protection against severe Covid-19 and death with a single shot, the vaccine can be stored for three months at refrigerator temperatures. This makes it well-suited for use in countries and locations that may not have access to the freezers and ultra-cold storage required by some other vaccines.
“As new vaccines become available, we must ensure they become part of the global solution and not another reason some countries and people are left further behind,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the W.H.O., said in a briefing on Friday. “We hope that this new vaccine will help to narrow vaccine inequalities and not deepen them.”
The W.H.O. will convene an advisory group next week to develop formal guidelines for the vaccine’s use.
Covax has reserved 500 million doses of the vaccine, but Johnson & Johnson has been working through production problems and has contracts to provide the United States with 200 million doses. A new production partnership with a rival pharmaceutical giant, Merck, is expected to help speed up the manufacturing process.
“We’re hoping by at least July that we have access to doses that we can be rolling out, if not even earlier,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the W.H.O., at the Friday briefing.