Scientists across the globe are racing to develop a vaccine to protect against coronavirus. Johnson & Johnson is currently testing its vaccine on animals. Janssen Pharmaceutica’s chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels: “Tests on humans are planned in September. Between 1,000 and 2,000 people will be vaccinated. These have to be healthy people without underlying illnesses. In this way we see the best results of the vaccine.”
There’s a big chance that some of the tests will be carried out in Belgium. It all depends where this can be done most quickly.
A second round of testing will involve between 50,000 and 100,000 people. These tests will have to be carried out in areas where there’s a chance people will get the virus. By the beginning of next year we will know if it works.
The pharmaceutical giant will build on knowledge built up during the development of other vaccines.
Paul Stoffels: “We are practically certain it will be safe and if it works it will provide immunity for a long period. We don’t yet know enough about the virus. We don’t know if we can stop the virus with a vaccine.”
Stoffels points out that many vaccines don’t provide protection against getting infected but will ensure you don’t have serious symptoms.
By the beginning of next year between 5 and 10 million doses of the vaccine could be produced, if the tests are successful.
The developers won’t decide who gets the vaccine first. That will be a decision for the authorities and their experts. Health workers and people at risk will be first in line.
Janssen Pharmaceutica is working to build capacity for vaccine production: in co-operation with other plants a billion vaccines could be produced next year.
Paul Stoffels claims Johnson & Johnson isn’t in it for the money: “This operation doesn’t have to make a profit. If somebody else came up with a vaccine I’d be happy. There are different ways of making a vaccine. Hopefully there will be several vaccines.”
Two jabs could be needed to offer greater protection. If the virus mutates, the vaccine too will have to be modified.
Paul Stoffels: “Then it becomes a yearly or two-yearly vaccine. Let’s hope that’s not the case because it would mean a second wave with a different virus.”
A vaccine for coronavirus isn’t the most difficult challenge Paul Stoffels’s company has faced: “HIV was and is more complex. But we’ve never had to make a vaccine on this scale and in such a short period of time.”