By Victor Caraballo, M.D., VP of Quality Management, Independence Blue Cross
A third FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially authorized the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States. This news brings health care providers a third option in the fight against COVID-19. The J&J vaccine is the first single-dose vaccine, making it easier to administer. It’s also easier to store, lasting three months in refrigeration (versus sub-freezing temperatures required for other vaccines).
How does this vaccine work?
The J&J vaccine, made by their Janssen vaccine division, tackles COVID-19 differently than those from Moderna and Pfizer. It uses DNA technology to give the body a genetic recipe to create and recognize the spike protein that is characteristic of the coronavirus. The vaccine teaches cells to make these proteins, and the immune system reacts by attacking them. If a vaccinated person is exposed to the virus, their immune system recognizes and attacks the proteins, thereby helping to reduce the likelihood of serious infection with COVID-19.
DNA-based vaccine technology has been in development for over a decade. DNA-based vaccines are highly durable and stable in the body. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to mass-produce.
The J&J COVID-19 vaccine is currently available to individuals 18 years and older.
How effective is the J&J vaccine?
Clinical trials for the J&J vaccine include nearly 45,000 adults from eight countries across three continents. Participants represented a variety of age, gender, racial, and ethnic groups. Responses to the vaccine have been consistent across these demographics. Only 468 cases of COVID-19 were reported among the participants and, most importantly, there were no severe cases or hospitalizations among those who received the vaccine. Only those in the placebo group (i.e. those who did not receive the vaccine), experienced severe COVID-19 or hospitalization.
Only 468 cases of COVID-19 were reported among the participants and, most importantly, there were no severe cases or hospitalizations among those who received the vaccine.
The J&J vaccine has a 72 percent efficacy rate in the United States, which is impressive for a one-dose vaccine. That means a 72% reduction in developing moderate to severe disease compared to no vaccine! By comparison, the annual flu vaccine hovers at 45 – 50 percent efficacy (and that’s still considered very good!).
J&J is currently testing the efficacy of their vaccine as a two-dose regimen.
The big picture
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken over 500,000 lives in the United States. More vaccines mean more protection. The more people vaccinated, the closer we get to reaching herd immunity and returning to a semblance of normalcy in our lives. All three of the FDA-authorized vaccines are great options, and you shouldn’t worry about which vaccine you receive — as long as you can receive one.
Keep taking basic COVID-19 precautions
As our communities begin to get vaccinated, it’s critical that we keep practicing basic safeguards against the spread of COVID-19. Whether you’re vaccinated or still waiting your turn, continue to wear a mask around people you don’t live with, practice social distancing of at least six feet, and wash your hands regularly. These are small but mighty steps in keeping ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe.