The coronavirus pandemic has changed so much about the world. A year into the pandemic, residents are still having to practice social distancing in public spaces, wear face masks and use copious amounts of hand sanitizer.
As more people start to get vaccinated against the virus, the Virginia Department of Health continues to provide the vaccine for those eligible in Phases 1a and 1b. In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines already available, a third one has officially arrived in Virginia: The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.
The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson (J & J), was recently approved on Feb. 27 under the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Emergency Use Authorization, with Virginia expected to receive an initial shipment 69,000 doses.
For those confused about what this new vaccine entails, we’ve got you covered.
- What is it? The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, otherwise known as the “J & J vaccine,” is a single dose cocktail made of a weak virus, also known as an adenovirus, which causes the common cold. Most vaccines typically contain a weakened form of the virus a person is getting inoculated for. However in this case, the J & J vaccine does not do that. What it does contain is a “gene” for the coronavirus to trigger an autoimmune response. This is known as a viral vector vaccine which has been used against deadly viruses such as Ebola and the flu. “The virus used in a viral vector vaccine poses no threat of causing illness in humans because it has been modified or, in some cases, because the type of virus used as the vector cannot cause disease in humans,” according to the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine question section on the Centers for Disease and Control website.
- How does it work? Similarly to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the J & J vaccine will trigger an immune response with a spike protein. “For COVID-19 vaccines, a modified virus delivers a gene that instructs our cells to make a SARS-CoV-2 antigen called the spike protein,” according to the CDC’s website. “This antigen triggers production of antibodies and a resulting immune response.“
- What’s in it? The J & J vaccine uses cloned human cells that came from a fetus in 1985. “These are retinal cells that came from a fetus that was aborted in 1985 in the Netherlands, which were treated in the lab to allow them to reproduce in lab settings since that time,” said Dr. Brianne Barker, associate professor of biology at Drew University in New Jersey, in an interview with Health.
- What makes it different from the other COVID-19 vaccines? Besides it being only one dose, another important difference is in how it’s made. While both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are made using messenger RNA technology, which give people proteins to jumpstart the person’s immune system by creating antibodies against the coronavirus, the J & J vaccine does not. Instead, the vaccine uses the viral vectors, the virus cocktail we mentioned above, and it can be stored at a warmer temperature than its counterparts at around 35-46° F, according to Johnson & Johnson. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the J & J vaccine has also been tested against the new COVID-19 strains that are popping up throughout the world. It is important to note that all three companies continue to research and run clinical trials on their vaccines.
- But just how effective is it and do I really only need one dose? Based on the studies performed, the Johnson & Johnson reports a 66.3% efficacy rate in percentage of immunity. While this is a lower percentage of preventiveness compared to the other two vaccines (which report an efficacy rate of around 95%), it is still higher than many other vaccines, such as for the flu, which gives people an average immunity of around 50%. The J & J vaccine has been approved for those 18 years and older. Instead of two vaccine shots several weeks apart, as required by the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the J & J vaccine only requires one dose. You can read the fact sheet in its entirety here.
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