Johnson & Johnson Vows To Create Vaccine For Deadly Coronavirus

Some of the leading health care experts and pharmaceutical companies in the United States, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong are racing to develop a vaccine to control the fast-spreading novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) currently ravaging China.

Johnson & Johnson, the giant pharmaceutical and health care company, this week revealed an extensive effort to develop a vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus. It said it started working on a coronavirus vaccine two weeks ago.

Dr. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson, said he’s confident the company can develop a vaccine within months. He warned, however, it might take up to a year before the vaccine becomes available to the public.

“We have dozens of scientists working on this so we’re pretty confident we can get something made that will work and stay active for the longer term,” Dr. Stoffels said. “We’ll see in the next few weeks how this goes.”

“We are going to take an approach with at least five different constructs and different partners and collaborations all over the world in order to see which part of the virus we can use to make an effective vaccine and develop a model that we can invest in.”

Per Dr. Stoffels, J&J is being forced to start from scratch on this vaccine. He noted the company, however, can take two to three months off of this time estimate due to technological advances.

“We are going to take an approach with at least five different constructs and different partners and collaborations all over the world in order to see which part of the virus we can use to make an effective vaccine and develop a model that we can invest in,” he added.

The easily transmissible coronavirus was first recognized in December 2019 and has already infected 6,062 persons and inflicted 132 deaths (all inside China) as of Wednesday afternoon.

Deaths from the new coronavirus, which has pneumonia-like symptoms plus a sore throat, are all in mainland China. Of the 132 deaths, 125 are in Hubei province (where the 2019-nCoV outbreak started) and seven in other provinces.

More than 3,300 people are hospitalized in Hubei while more than 20,000 are being observed for infection. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, is the epicenter of the outbreak. It's for this reason the coronavirus is also called the Wuhan coronavirus. All 24 of China's provinces and administrative regions except Tibet have reported confirmed 2019-nCoV cases.

University of Hong Kong academics predicted the number of infections in five Chinese megacities -- Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing -- will peak between late April and early May. Chinese scientists are also developing vaccines to counter the coronavirus.

In the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday reported more than 100 people across 26 states are now being screened for the coronavirus. There are currently only seven confirmed cases in the country.

“The CDC has reported five cases of the novel coronavirus infection here in the United States," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. "China has now reported more than 4,500 cases. Americans should know this is a potentially very serious public health threat, but at this point American’s should not worry for their own safety.”

coronavirus Two family members who spent time in Saudi Arabia have been confirmed as carrying the MERS virus. Iqbal Osman, CC BY 2.0

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