J&J CEO Says Covid-19 Vaccine Will Be Important Tool to Contain Pandemic

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Johnson & Johnson’s

chief executive said the company’s Covid-19 vaccine could still play a role in containing the global coronavirus pandemic despite its setbacks with production problems and safety concerns.

J&J CEO

Alex Gorsky

said the company’s vaccine could be particularly useful outside the U.S. in developing countries. It is given in one dose and has more convenient storage requirements than some other vaccines.

“We still believe that this is going to be a very important tool in the overall armamentarium to help overall contain Covid and make a big difference for the world,” Mr. Gorsky said Wednesday during a WSJ Tech Health Event.

In the U.S., J&J’s vaccine has played a smaller role since its February authorization than the other two authorized vaccines, one from

Pfizer Inc.

and its partner

BioNTech SE,

and the other from

Moderna Inc.

J&J’s supply has been limited by production problems at a contractor’s manufacturing plant, and J&J’s vaccine rollout was paused temporarily in April while health authorities investigated the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder in recipients of its vaccine. Millions of doses are at risk of expiring unused this month, partly due to canceled appointments during the pause.

Alex Gorsky of Johnson and Johnson discussed herd immunity and Covid-19 booster shots at the WSJ Tech Health event.

Outside the U.S., J&J has signed supply contracts to make its vaccine available to developing countries, including the African Union and the international Covax initiative aimed at vaccinated people in lower- and middle-income countries. J&J in March said it would make up to 220 million doses available to the African Union, with a potential to expand the total to 400 million through 2022. J&J also has an agreement in principle with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide up to 500 million doses internationally, including via the Covax initiative.

Mr. Gorsky said J&J has lined up a network of manufacturing partners in several countries to help supply the doses it has committed under those contracts.

The company is awaiting a Food and Drug Administration decision on authorizing vaccine doses that were made at contract manufacturer

Emergent BioSolutions Inc.’s

plant in Baltimore. The release of those doses has been on hold while Emergent addresses some of the quality problems identified by FDA inspectors.

A batch of J&J’s vaccine produced at the Emergent plant earlier this year was ruined by contamination from viral material used in the production of another Covid-19 vaccine, from

AstraZeneca

PLC, at the same plant. The Emergent plant is no longer producing the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“We remain confident and hopeful we’ll be able to bring that to a resolution in the very near future,” Mr. Gorsky said Wednesday.

He said the ability of J&J’s other manufacturing partners to make the vaccine doesn’t depend upon getting the main ingredient—the drug substance—from the Emergent plant. J&J has a partnership with Biological E. Ltd. in India to make drug substance for the vaccine, for example.

J&J also is exploring the use of its vaccine as a booster shot to sustain immunity from Covid-19 and to protect against virus variants that have emerged. Mr. Gorsky said booster shots likely will be needed for some time, at least until the global pandemic is brought under control.

“We could be looking at this to be taken along with the flu shot likely over the next several years,” Mr. Gorsky said.

The leaders of Pfizer and Moderna also have made similar predictions about the need for booster shots. Pfizer CEO

Albert Bourla

said in April annual vaccinations would likely be necessary to maintain protection against an evolving virus.

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Johnson & Johnson Chief Executive Alex Gorsky as Gorksy. (Corrected on June 9)

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