U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Michael O’Hagan

Janssen vaccine approved for use – Expert Reaction

New Zealand could soon have two Covid-19 vaccine options, as Medsafe approves the single-dose Janssen vaccine for use in over-18s.

Cabinet will now weigh up the options for using the Janssen vaccine, with a decision expected some time in August.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the approval.

Dr Nikki Turner, Director, Immunisation Advisory Centre, University of Auckland, comments:

“The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine now joins the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine with provisional approval from Medsafe in New Zealand. This is welcome news for New Zealand in ensuring we have options for another effective vaccine that also comes with an international excellent safety profile. This gives potential for more flexibility for our COVID-19 vaccination programme over time.

“While the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine is yet to receive a ‘decision to use’ from the Government and supply is not likely until later in the year, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will remain the only vaccine that will be offered to all eligible people in New Zealand this year.

“Like the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the Janssen vaccine has an excellent safety and efficacy profile and has been widely used internationally with robust data sitting behind it. There are several key differences with the Janssen vaccine, most notably that it is a single dose vaccine and uses different technology. It is a viral vector vaccine using an inactivated version of a different virus carrying the code for the protein that the body’s immune system responds to. This is a similar type of vaccine as the AstraZenica vaccine.”

What role could the Janssen play in the New Zealand context?

“There are a small number of cases where it would not be appropriate to offer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, such as for those who have had a severe reaction to their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine. While New Zealand is expecting good supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine it is not likely the Janssen is going to be needed in large amounts this year.

“Going forward, will there be a place for a mixture of vaccines? Time will tell. At this stage with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine performing so well there is no urgent need for large amounts of any other vaccine, but it will be good to have Janssen as a backup.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Note: The Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) has a contract with the Ministry of Health to delivery education and training to the healthcare sector for COVID-19 vaccines.