What to Know About the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

In late February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in adults. Shipping of the vaccine began immediately, with more than 20 million doses expected throughout the United States in March.

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is different from the other vaccines available from Pfizer and Moderna.

A Viral Vector Vaccine

Brian Kaminski, DO, vice president of Quality and Patient Safety at ProMedica, says that the primary difference is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.

“Viral vector vaccines use a technology that we’ve used for a long time,” Dr. Kaminski explains. “These vaccines use technology that delivers a message to your cells to generate a response in your body that causes you to produce proteins that your body can recognize and prepare an immune response to the COVID-19 virus. If and when you come into contact with COVID-19, your body is already ready.”

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not viral vector vaccines, but mRNA vaccines. According to the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of a “spike protein,” which is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the mRNA after it’s finished using the instructions.

Viral vector vaccines, like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also help our bodies develop the “spike protein.” But they use a modified version of a harmless virus (the vector) to give your body the instructions.

Dr. Kaminski stresses that none of the COVID-19 vaccines use the live virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccines cannot infect you with COVID-19 or change your DNA.

A Single Dose that’s Effective

While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective, the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is only one dose. It also doesn’t have to be stored in ultracold freezers, so it’s much easier to ship and store.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease, but more importantly, it is 100% effective in preventing severe disease, as well as hospitalizations and deaths caused by COVID-19.

Although there are now three types of vaccines available, individuals will not be able to choose which COVID-19 vaccine they receive when they schedule their vaccination.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccines and distribution, visit ProMedica’s website.