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Interview

Hospital workers to be first up for Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Chief science officer pledges global availability and accessible pricing

Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson, said vaccine distribution should focus on those most at risk from the coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Johnson & Johnson)

TOKYO -- Johnson & Johnson will offer its in-development coronavirus vaccine around the world, making it first available to front-line medical workers, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels told Nikkei.

The company will work with all governments around the globe -- not just in Europe and the U.S., but also countries including Japan, China and South Korea -- to "find ways to provide vaccines in every country," including poor nations, Stoffels said. New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest health care company, has a presence nearly everywhere in the world, he noted.

In Stoffels' view, the focus is less on where the vaccine goes than on who gets it. "The first people who need to get access are the people at the highest risk," such as "the health care workers who work in hospitals -- the nurses, the doctors and all the people who work with the patients," he said.

As for the price, Stoffels said it is "too early" in the development process to say, but he stressed that it will be as low as possible and that Johnson & Johnson considers the vaccine a not-for-profit project. "We are committed to make it affordable [and] accessible," he said.

Asked how the drugmaker plans to produce its promised 1 billion doses, Stoffels expressed confidence that the company can quickly find peers to help. "We will do capital investment as well as collaborating with partners," he said, adding that the company has begun building a new plant in the U.S. and has capacity in Europe that it can expand.

"We hope we will be able to get four plants in total to start with," he said, adding "Two plants are already in line and two more to come, and we'll work in the next few weeks and months to make sure two more plants will come online."

Clinical trials on the vaccine are slated to begin in early September, and the company is working on scaling up production to make it available early next year, Stoffels said.

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