People wait in line at a 24-hour, walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium at Temple University's Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic
People wait in line at a 24-hour, walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic hosted by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium at Temple University's Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Reports released by the FDA showed Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was 86% effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and 100% effective at preventing death in the United States. 

The US Food and Drug Administration on Saturday granted emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose coronavirus vaccine, a hopeful development that puts Pennsylvania and the rest of the country one step closer to bringing the pandemic to an end. 

The formal approval of the nation’s third coronavirus vaccine came just days after new analyses showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19, and may reduce the spread of the virus among vaccinated people. The reports released by the FDA showed the vaccine was 86% effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and 100% effective at preventing death in the United States. 

Distribution of the vaccine is expected to begin soon, and the Biden administration is preparing to send 3 million to 4 million doses to states, pharmacies, and community health centers as early as this week, Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said on Wednesday.

“We are ready to roll out this vaccine without delay,” Zients told reporters. 

That means Pennsylvania is likely to receive hundreds of thousands of doses in the coming weeks. The shot could be a huge game changer in Pennsylvania’s quest to bring the pandemic to an end. As of Thursday, only about 690,000 residents—or 5% of the state’s population—have been fully vaccinated in the state, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 1.7 million have received their first shot, but not their second. 

The slow rollout has been largely driven by shortages in vaccine supply, according to Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam.

“We cannot forget that the limiting factor is the supply of our vaccine,” Beam said at a press conference a few weeks ago. “There is not enough vaccine for everyone who can get it right now. But there will be.” 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine could help address the shortage while also making it easier to vaccinate hard-to-reach populations, such as the state’s rural communities. That’s because the company’s vaccine requires only one dose and can be stored in a normal refrigerator for several months, unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which require two shots and must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. 

That simplicity could allow the state to rapidly ramp up vaccination efforts and fully innoculate a large percentage of its population in the coming months.