The Johnson & Johnson jab could be rolled out in the US by March, scientists say (Image: REUTERS)

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A new single-shot Covid vaccine is safe and could be rolled out by March, scientists claim.

Johnson & Johnson expects to have clear data on how effective it is by the end of this month or early February, the US healthcare company's chief scientific officer said.

Dr Paul Stoffels in an interview on Tuesday also said J&J expects to meet its stated target of delivering 1 billion doses of its vaccine by the end of this year as the company ramps up production.

Dr Stoffels said it was premature to say how many doses would be available in March, presuming the company receives emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration.

The New York Times reported earlier that J&J was experiencing manufacturing delays that would reduce the number of doses on hand initially.

The vaccine can be administered with just one jab (file image)
(Image: PA)

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"We are aiming for 1 billion doses in 2021. If it is a
single dose, that means 1 billion people. But it will be in a ramp-up throughout the year," Dr Stoffels said.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is being produced in the United States, Europe, South Africa and India with the help of contract manufacturers in order to build capacity.

"It's a few weeks too early to be giving final numbers on what we can launch in the first couple months," he said.

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser for the US Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program, said the vaccine could show efficacy at or above 80%.

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That would be below the efficacy of about 95% achieved in trials of already authorized vaccines from Pfizer Inc with BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc, but well above the 50% benchmark for approval set by regulators.

It also has the advantage of being a single-shot vaccine, which means it can protect more people faster, and without the cold storage requirements of the other vaccines.

Dr Stoffels said the company set an efficacy target at 60%, but internally has been shooting for at least 70% to 80%.

"We are very confident that the vaccine will be much higher than 60%," he said, adding that the "aim is for the highest levels, hopefully closing in on what Moderna and Pfizer are doing."

Interim results from the company's Phase I/II study,
published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, have helped boost that confidence.

The study showed that 90% of 805 volunteers aged 18 to 55 developed protective antibodies 29 days after a single dose, and that increased to 100% by day 57.

The study is ongoing, but the protection has lasted 71 days so far.

Similar data in participants over age 65 will be available in late January.