Johnson & Johnson announces the preparation of a COVID-19 vaccine


Illustration by Makinsey Drake

By Makinsey Drake, Parkway West High School

In the midst of a deadly public health crisis, medical device company Johnson & Johnson announced Feb. 11 that they’ve made plans to develop a vaccine and a commitment to supply 1 billion vaccines worldwide for emergency use. COVID-19 is a combination of viruses Johnson & Johnson has dealt with before

Key account specialist Kendra Royal works in the Janssen Neuroscience division of Johnson & Johnson. Royal focuses on delivering new medicines to treat brain disorders such as schizophrenia, treatment-resistant depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

“My division has narrowed the possible solutions to one that will undergo human clinical trials by Sept. 2020,” Royal said.

If the test trial goes well, Johnson & Johnson is ready to have 1 billion vaccines prepared between Jan. and March. The company is increasing its manufacturing capacity with a new site in the U.S. and additions to existing sites in other countries to produce and distribute the potential vaccine quickly. 

“We’ve been pursuing many different types of vaccines varied by the way the vaccine will enter the body,” Royal said. “The vaccine is being fast-tracked and is a huge investment that we are making. We may lose money from this, but we are confident we have found the right vaccine.”

Johnson & Johnson worked with various corporations to combat the Ebola epidemic. Within six months they went from a vaccine in the lab, to a vaccine in the clinic and made it accessible for emergency situations. They plan to follow a similar trajectory for COVID-19. Similar to the Ebola vaccine, this one will be available nonprofit. 

“It won’t be free, but we are not going to raise the price to make money on it. We’re going to break even,” Royal said. “Our credo [statement of beliefs] serves as a guide to decision-making and integrity in the business. [It] states that our first responsibility is to society and patients with illnesses. Then to family members, the community as a whole, doctors and nurses, and employees and shareholders.”

While it’s possible that by reaching a point of containment the pandemic could end, a vaccine is necessary to ensure the virus does not come back, a possibility. Mark Drake, General Surgeon at Mercy Hospital believes that the release of this vaccine will promote comfort in society.

“Once the vaccine is released, it will provide a sense of security, knowing that it is something that can now be prevented. If people act responsibly and get vaccinated, it would alleviate [the fears] and the catastrophic ramifications of the pandemic,” Drake said.

Drake believes this will prompt changes to the scientific community for preventing and dealing with future viruses. 

“We need pandemic preparedness, diagnostic networks learning very quickly what new viruses have emerged and vaccine platforms ready to work against these viruses,” Drake said.

Missouri’s stay-at-home order is set to expire May 4. Medical Science teacher Amy Cohen believes that as our daily lives begin to reach a degree of normalcy, certain aspects of our current behavior will remain the same, while society will remain undoubtedly changed.

“I think some actions we are doing now will stay for a while, such as not shaking hands, washing hands a lot, and wanting to support local businesses. We are seeing the environmental impact of people not commuting/traveling as much which is actually helping the planet. It’d be great if as we resume our ‘normal’ lives we continue to do things that reduce air pollution,” Cohen said. 

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on May 7, 2020.