What’s Different About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine?

What’s Different About the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine?
Photo: Guillermo Legaria, Getty Images
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Johnson & Johnson released numbers today from their phase 3 clinical trials (the last step before applying for emergency use authorisation) and it looks like there may soon be a third viable COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

This vaccine is a bit different from the other two. The ones from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are both mRNA vaccines, which require two doses and need to be stored at freezer temperatures or in special ultra-cold packaging. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperature, like most any other vaccine you’d get at a pharmacy or doctor’s office. And it only requires one dose.

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The new vaccine was found to be 85% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease, the press release said, and in the U.S., it was 72% effective at preventing “moderate to severe” disease. In other countries, the effectiveness seemed to be lower, down to 56% efficacy in South Africa, where the most common COVID strain is a concerning variant. It’s not clear yet whether the difference is due to the variant or to some other factor or combination of factors.

If you’re wondering about the difference between “moderate” and “severe” COVID-19, the press release included these definitions:

In the study, the definition of severe COVID-19 disease included laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 and one or more of the following: signs consistent with severe systemic illness, admission to an intensive care unit, respiratory failure, shock, organ failure or death, among other factors. Moderate COVID-19 disease was defined as laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 and one or more of the following: evidence of pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis, shortness of breath or abnormal blood oxygen saturation above 93%, abnormal respiratory rate (≥20); or two or more systemic symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.

Among people who got the vaccine, nobody experienced any hospitalizations or deaths from COVID once they were 28 days out from their first and only dose.

Even if this vaccine turns out to be less effective overall than the mRNA vaccines, the fact that it only requires one dose and can be distributed at refrigerator temperature may mean it can reach more people — and reach them more quickly — than those vaccines.

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