With the authorization of a third COVID-19 vaccine last week – this one produced by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) – many people are asking: how does it differ from the already-approved Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines?
There are no studies that compare these vaccines head to head, and each were studied in different places and at different periods of the pandemic. All three have been shown to be effective for preventing hospitalization and death, said Internal Medicine Physician and Pediatrician Abe Jacob, MD, MHA, M Health Fairview’s chief quality officer.
“All three vaccines currently authorized are very effective at reducing your risk of getting severe complications from COVID-19,” said Jacob. “People ask: Which COVID-19 vaccine should I get? My response: The first one that is available to you. Only 7-8 percent of the population is currently vaccinated. If you qualify, you should get the vaccine that is available today to help accelerate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
On Feb. 27, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), which means this vaccine – like the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots – is now approved for public use.
In a clinical trial involving more than 43,000 people, the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine was shown to be 66 percent effective in preventing mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 at least 28 days after vaccination. More importantly, researchers found that the vaccine was 85 percent effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and was 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and deaths at least 28 days after vaccination.
There are some important differences with this vaccine that make measuring it against others like comparing apples and oranges, Jacob said.
For starters, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes in a single dose – unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which both require two doses several weeks apart. In addition, the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines rely on messenger RNA method to provide immunity, while the Johnson & Johnson shot uses a vector vaccine method. Vector vaccines use another weakened virus – in this case, it’s an adenovirus called Ad26 – to deliver genetic material that tricks your body into making a protein which stimulates your body’s immune response.
to deliver genetic material from the COVID-19 virus into your body. This triggers your body’s immune response, giving you protection. It is not possible to get COVID-19 or a sickness caused by the adenovirus through this vaccine.
There are other important differences. The Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine was studied during and following the emergence of new COVID-19 variants – several of which spread more easily than previous forms of the disease. It’s the most-up-to-date vaccine, Jacob said, and the only one tested head-to-head with these variants. And there are not any studies directly comparing one vaccine to one another, Jacob said, so it is not accurate to assume that one version is better than another.
“We need to end hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 as quickly as possible and having access to a new single-dose vaccine is an important tool in our toolbox,” Jacob said.
Because it only requires a single dose and has more flexible storage requirements, the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine may be particularly useful for people who are homebound, have difficulty getting transportation for repeat visits to a vaccine site, or have other circumstances affecting their access to healthcare, Jacob said.
“All vaccines currently offered through M Health Fairview are very effective at boosting protection for our bodies and reducing hospitalizations and deaths,” Jacob said. “Once vaccinated, we still need to stay vigilant in mask wearing, being socially distant, and taking other steps to reduce our risk. There are still a lot of high-risk people who have not been vaccinated, and you could be putting them at risk if you change your behavior after getting the vaccine.”