What you need to know about Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine
Updated: Mar 26, 2021
As of February 27th, the FDA authorized the emergency use of a third Covid-19 vaccine- Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot adenovirus vaccination. 3.9 million doses of the vaccine have already been shipped out to vaccination sites throughout the country and are expected to arrive this morning, March 2nd.
But like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccination was created in an incredibly short amount of time. In this blog, we’ll break down everything you need to know about Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine.
How is Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine different?
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is very different from the two other mRNA Covid-19 vaccines currently in use. While Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines utilize messenger RNA technology to train the immune system to develop immunity to the coronavirus, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine employs more traditional vaccination methods.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine works:
The vaccine contains a harmless cold virus used to deliver a gene that carries information on the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus.
The virus will enter a cell and distribute the genetic instructions of the spike protein.
Our cells will then begin to develop a replica of the coronavirus spike in response to the virus’s information.
This replica will be used by antibodies in our immune system to immediately attack and destroy the coronavirus if it ever enters our body.
Other differences between Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations include:
While the mRNA vaccines must be stored in extremely cold temperatures and have a relatively short life in normal refrigeration, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine can be stored for months in a normal refrigerator.
Pfizer and Moderna both require 2 shots, an initial shot and a booster, Johnson & Johnson only requires one dose.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not contain lipids, which are thought to be causing allergic reactions in reaction to the mRNA vaccines- albeit a severe reaction is VERY RARE.
What are the ingredients used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
The ingredients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are described below:
A recombinant- a piece of virus or bacteria, a surface protein
Replication-incompetent adenovirus type 26 expressing the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein- this is a very commonly used vaccine vector that will carry information into our cells
Citric acid monohydrate- an acid found in fruits that is used to maintain the stability of active ingredients and is used as a preservative
Trisodium citrate dihydrate- another citric acid with anticoagulant properties
Ethanol- a sterilizing alcohol
2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD)- a compound used to improve the solubility of a vaccine
Polysorbate-80- an emulsifier often used in frozen foods
Sodium chloride- salt
How effective and safe is Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine?
While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may appear to be less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines when looking at effectiveness rates, there are key differences in the testing protocols that skew results.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was tested while other variants of Covid-19 were spreading. Whereas Moderna and Pfizer were only tested against the “original” Covid-19 strain. This means Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was tested on a wider scale than the mRNA vaccines, participants were from the US, South Africa, and South America.
So while Moderna and Pfizer are 95% effective against the American Covid-19 strain, there is no information on how effective they are against other variants. Johnson & Johnson is 72% effective against the American strain, 66% effective against the South American variant, and 57% effective against the South African strain. Through all the variants, the vaccine was 100% protective against death and hospitalization and 85% protective against severe side effects of the disease.
Due to the lack of lipids in Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, there is less risk of an allergic reaction. In their clinical trials, out of 40,000 participants, there were no severe allergic reactions reported. This is causing some doctors to suggest that Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be used for people who had an allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine.
When can you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?
Unfortunately, Johnson & Johnson is already 17 million doses short of reaching its expected yield of 37 million by the end of March. However, they claim to still be on track to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.
Thankfully, the pharmaceutical giant Merck has been brought on board to start producing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in two of their facilities. Merck has a century-long history of vaccine production, responsible for the combination childhood vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella, developing Gardasil, and the Ebola vaccine. This partnership is expected to drastically increase Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine production, but specific details have yet to be released.
What will these mean for the end of the pandemic?
Each new vaccine brings us one step closer to the end of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived at a great time; the downward slope of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued, likely because public health restrictions have been relaxed too soon and coronavirus variants are spreading quickly.
Great Britain’s Covid variant, B.1.1.7, is expected to become the most dominant strain this month. Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, Johnson & Johnson has proven to be effective against the other Covid-19 variants. However, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also working on creating 2nd and 3rd booster shots to increase the effectiveness against new variants.