U.S. pharmaceutical and medical device maker Johnson & Johnson says after a global trial, the COVID-19 vaccine it has developed is 66% effective in preventing infection.
The one-dose vaccine, which was developed by the company's Belgian subsidiary Janssen, appears to be 85% effective in preventing serious illness, even against the South African variant.
Of the 44,000 people who participated in the trail in the U.S., South Africa and Brazil, no one who was given the vaccine died, the company said.
"The potential to significantly reduce the burden of severe disease, by providing an effective and well-tolerated vaccine with just one immunization, is a critical component of the global public health response," Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson, said in a company press release.
"A one-shot vaccine is considered by the World Health Organization to be the best option in pandemic settings, enhancing access, distribution and compliance," said the statement.
The U.S. has agreed to buy 100 million doses of the vaccine with a further option to buy 200 million more, according to the company.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the fourth vaccine approved to fight the pandemic.
Variant detected in U.S.
There are more than 101 million global COVID-19 infections, the disease caused by the coronavirus, Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Friday. The U.S. tops the list with more than 25 million cases, followed by India with 10.7 million infections and Brazil with 9 million. More than 2 million people have died from the disease, Hopkins said.
Health officials in South Carolina say they have detected two cases of the South African COVID-19 variant, the first cases in the United States.
So far, the variant does not appear to cause more serious illness, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that "preliminary data suggests this variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants."
"That's frightening" because it means there are likely more undetected cases within the state, Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said in an interview with CBS News. "It's probably more widespread."
Officials say the two South Carolina cases do not appear to be connected or travel related.
It is normal for viruses to mutate. Variants from Britain and Brazil have also been discovered.
WHO Wuhan probe
In other COVID-19 news, World Health Organization investigators emerged from a two-week quarantine Thursday in Wuhan, China, to begin their work in search of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The international team boarded a bus after leaving their hotel in the afternoon.
China, which for months rejected calls for an international probe, has pledged adequate access for the researchers. The team is expected to spend several weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and a market linked to many of the first cases.
The WHO has said the purpose of the mission is not to assign blame for the pandemic but to figure out how it started in order to better prevent and combat future outbreaks.
"We are looking for the answers here that may save us in the future, not culprits and not people to blame," Mike Ryan, WHO's top emergencies official, said earlier this month.
The novel coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019 and has since spread across the world, infecting more than 100 million people and killing about 2.1 million.
More than 120 countries have called for an independent investigation into the origins of the virus, with many governments accusing China of not doing enough to contain its spread.
"It's imperative that we get to the bottom of the early days of the pandemic in China, and we've been supportive of an international investigation that we feel should be robust and clear," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.