Johnson & Johnson CEO: Coronavirus-Vaccine Development ‘Encouraging,’ Likely in Early 2021

Based on worldwide collaboration and intense efforts, there could be four to five coronavirus vaccines available in early 2021 for distribution to millions of people across the globe, according to the CEO and chairman of Johnson & Johnson.

Alex Gorsky gave an update on his company’s efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine during a special Zoom meeting with members of the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday. During his update, Gorsky said he is impressed with how his fellow industry players, including Michigan-based Pfizer, are doing in terms of development, testing and conversations around a vaccine for this pandemic.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Gorsky told the dozens of people and media listening into a Zoom call with him and DEC President Steve Grigorian. “We’re hopeful but there is still a lot of information we need to garner.”

The rush to get a coronavirus vaccine to the public has companies such as Johnson & Johnson moving rapidly to develop a scientifically valid and well distributed vaccine for the public, Gorsky said. He called Pfizer’s Monday announcement of having 90% efficacy in its vaccine during the testing phase “great news for the world and certainly great news for the industry.”

“The signs by Pfizer are very encouraging,” Gorsky said.

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According to the Johnson & Johnson website, “We’ve initiated the phase 3 study of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate that will assess the safety and effectiveness in up to 60,000 participants, including diverse individuals disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

“We’re also working with global partners to screen a library of molecules, including antivirals, in order to identify potential treatments that could contribute to providing immediate relief to the current pandemic,” the website noted.

‘Encouraging’ progress
Gorsky explained that with tremendous investment in research and development across this industry, “it used to take five to seven years to discover these vaccines; now it’s taking a matter of months.” He said his company’s testing on its vaccine are in the third phase but he is “encouraged” by the progress Johnson & Johnson is making.

While this is great news and great progress, there are many more questions that need to be answered, Gorsky said. He said companies are looking at vaccine durability, length of its affect on people, how it will affect different populations based on age or health as well as whether people will need one shot or two.

All in all, with the accelerated process in a best-case scenario Gorsky said he believes there will be four to five vaccines likely available by beginning of 2021.

“This is not about competition against one another; it’s against the virus,” Gorsky said. He expects that discussions will continue on who will get the vaccine first, such as healthcare workers and first responders, as well as important questions about how the vaccine will get to other nations and geographic areas in a timely fashion.

Michigan connection
This week, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer released the following statement after Pfizer announced that an early analysis showed that their COVID-19 vaccine is 90% effective, and after President-Elect Joe Biden announced his COVID-19 Response Team comprised of health experts from across the country:

“This is great news for our families, our frontline workers, and our small business owners. Michigan has always been on the forefront of innovation, and I am proud to see that Pfizer, a Michigan business and one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in the world, will produce the vaccine in our great state,” Whitmer’s statement said.

“We must remember that when the vaccine is ready, it will take time to distribute, and we need everyone to continue doing their part to protect each other from COVID-19. That’s why it’s so important that President-Elect Biden has announced a team of medical experts to lead our country’s COVID-19 response,” the statement noted.

“It is crucial that leaders across the country listen to science and the recommendations of health experts, and President-Elect Biden has made it clear that he shares that commitment. I look forward to working closely with him and medical experts everywhere to fight this virus and save lives,” the statement concluded.