COVID-19 vaccine makers could inoculate the world by the end of 2022, says J&J CEO Alex Gorsky
Global vaccine makers will produce enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate the world by the end of 2022—but the vaccines might not get delivered to everyone until 2023, Alex Gorsky, CEO of pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson, said on Tuesday.
“If you add up the total number of [COVID-19] vaccines” global manufacturers produce in 2022, the world will be “approaching enough vaccines to get the world vaccinated,” Gorsky said in a virtual interview during Fortune’s Global 500 Summit in Hangzhou, China.
But producing vaccines is the easier part. Delivering them is harder.
Gorsky said a lack of cross-border collaboration among governments, health care systems, and industry players is why the end of 2023 may be a more realistic timeline to vaccinate everyone who wants a jab. But Gorsky said he’s “cautiously optimistic…that we’ll make a big dent in that during 2022.”
To fully vaccinate the world against COVID-19, vaccine makers like Johnson & Johnson will need to increase deliveries to low-income nations. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 3.9% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 62.1% of people in wealthy countries.
Johnson & Johnson is showing early signs of equalizing access compared with some of its peers. According to Airfinity, a data firm that tracks vaccine shipments, Johnson & Johnson has supplied 25 million jabs to low-income countries as of Oct. 9, compared with Pfizer’s 8.4 million and Moderna’s 1 million.
Johnson & Johnson’s relatively high number of shipments to low-income countries likely reflects, in part, its vaccine technology, which at one dose has proven less effective than two mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 but is easier to administer.
Unlike mRNA jabs from Pfizer and Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s viral vector vaccine requires only one shot, a regimen that is especially convenient for health authorities operating in rural and less-developed areas. (Though on Friday, after Gorsky’s interview was taped, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee urged the agency to authorize boosters of the Johnson & Johnson jab to all Americans who had received the initial dose.)
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is also easier to deliver because it can also be stored between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius; it doesn’t require expensive subzero supply-chain infrastructure like the mRNA vaccines, which need to be kept at temperatures ranging from minus 15 to minus 90 degrees Celsius.
Johnson & Johnson’s focus on vaccine equity is also part of a purpose-driven culture that Gorsky has tried to foster since taking the role of CEO in 2012.
“If you create a transactional environment, you might get a short bump and be able to do something that’s good for the next month, the next quarter, or maybe even the next year,” Gorsky says. But for long-term success, employees need to feel like they have a sense of purpose and are serving their communities.
“That’s what truly builds that long-term pathway and really enables a company to be successful over decades,” Gorsky says.
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