Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels says the pharmaceutical giant is making good progress on development of a vaccine against COVID-19 “and we are now close to selecting a candidate vaccine which we can bring forward for pre-clinical and clinical testing.”
Dr. Stoffels told Yahoo Finance large scale testing is scheduled to start in November. J&J is working with U.S. regulators to finish pre-clinical work before testing begins.
“It has to be very safe and effective and that’s why we need some time to test,” Stoffels said.
“I am pretty comfortable that within 12 months we will be in a different situation and probably will be able to start vaccinating people,” Stoffels predicted.
In the meantime he says prevention and social distancing are the best precautions to keep people from becoming ill.
No quick fix even after vaccine developed
Johnson & Johnson is the world’s third largest pharmaceutical company and has previously worked with the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, BARDA, to develop vaccines against different diseases like EBOLA and FLU. Dr. Stoffels says J&J kicked off its coordinated research with BARDA six weeks ago.
Even after a vaccine is developed and proven to be safe and effective, Stoffels says it will be difficult to produce enough vaccine to inoculate the entire population at once.
“So, what needs to be done is first vaccinating the high risk people, the people at highest risk, like health care workers and like the elderly people and those people who are most at risk to get very sick and even die from the disease,” he says.
Stoffels says it will be up to health care professionals in the United States and other countries to determine who should be vaccinated first. He says the technology exists to produce large quantities of vaccine, “and we will activate that system very quickly as we have a vaccine which we are going to develop.”
Drastic measures to stop the outbreak
India this week ordered its 1.3 billion citizens to stay home for the next three weeks joining countries around the world taking historic steps to stop the COVID-19 outbreak. “The likelihood that this will be under control soon is low,” Dr. Stoffels said.
Without a vaccine, Stoffels says there is the possibility that the coronavirus could become a seasonal outbreak, “It will come in waves until a large majority of people get infected and get antibodies,” he said.
Stoffels says he worries about the COVID-19 virus mutating on a seasonal basis. That would require updated vaccines on a regular basis to protect people from new variations of the virus. “But up to now I think… it doesn’t look like that,” Stoffels said.
“Hopefully it stays with one virus going around the world and making sure we get this under control as soon as possible.” If not, Stoffels says a vaccine at a certain point, “will put a stop to this.”
Adam Shapiro is co-anchor of Yahoo Finance’s On the Move.