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The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine: What You Need to Know

By Maggie McCabe

On Saturday, February 27, The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine — the first authorized vaccine to only require one shot.


Johnson & Johnson has committed to producing and giving the U.S. 100 million doses of their vaccine by the end of June. By then, the U.S. is scheduled to also receive 600 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. 


With the increase in projected vaccine supply, President Biden has announced that states will open vaccine distribution to all adults 18 and older by May 1. This creates the possibility that everyone in the country may have access to it by this coming fall


Biden’s administration has worked to unite  J&J with their pharmaceutical competitor Merck in order to create and distribute more vaccines. 


The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has three main differences from its Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna counterpart: slightly lower efficacy rates, a different way of achieving immunity, and easier handling. 


The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72% effective at preventing a COVID-19 infection and 82% effective at preventing a severe case of COVID-19. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, meanwhile, is 95% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. 


Although the J&J vaccine may technically seem less effective, this may be because its clinical trials took place during a different stage in the pandemic. Pfizer and Moderna’s trials took place during the summer and fall of 2020 when there were almost no known variants. J&J’s trials taking place during the late fall and winter of 2020, amid numerous transmittable variants of the virus, may have led to lower efficacy rates.


Additionally, the J&J vaccine was created with adenovirus vector technology, in contrast to Pfizer and Moderna. This means recipients are injected with a weakened strain of a common cold virus that was manipulated to carry the genetic information of the coronavirus. The weakened virus enters the cells and delivers the COVID-19 genetic material but does not replicate and cause illness. Contrarily, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were created with mRNA technology. Those vaccines use mRNA as a vehicle for the genetic instructions to tell a person’s cells to produce an immune response without injecting the virus. 


Lastly, the J&J vaccine requires just a singular dose, and it can be stored for up to three months in a regular refrigerator, it is much easier to distribute. This is especially beneficial to hard-to-reach communities that may not come back for a second dose. Also, the ability to be stored in a regular refrigerator means that pharmacies and grocery stores potentially have the capabilities to distribute the vaccine. This allows the vaccine to reach past larger cities and into towns and cities without readily available hospitals and health departments. 


Overall, the FDA’s emergency use authorization is a step towards getting more people vaccinated and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S and all over the world.

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