How Is Johnson & Johnson’s Vaccine Different?

Johnson & Johnson today released the numbers for its Phase 3 clinical trials (the final step before applying for an emergency use authorization), and it looks like we may soon have a third viable COVID-19 vaccine in the US.

This vaccine is slightly different from the other two. Both vaccines from Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna represent mRNA vaccines that require two doses and which must be stored at temperatures of the freezing chamber or in a special ultra-cold pack. Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperature just like any vaccine you get at your pharmacy or doctor’s office. And it only takes one dose.

The new vaccine is 85% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease, and 72% effective in preventing “moderate to severe” disease in the US, the press release said. In other countries, the effectiveness was lower, to 56% in South Africa, where the most common COVID strain is a dangerous option . It is not clear whether the difference is due to variant or to some other factor or combination of factors.

If you are interested in the difference between “moderate” and “severe” COVID-19, the press release includes the following 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 has been defined as laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 and one or more of the following: signs of pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis, shortness of breath or abnormal oxygen saturation above 93%, abnormal respiratory rate (≥20); or two or more systemic symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.

Among people who received the vaccine, no one had hospitalizations or deaths from COVID when they were 28 days away from taking their first and only dose.

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


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