Saturday, Feb. 27, the FDA approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, making it the third manufacturer able to distribute vaccines in the United States. Joining the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, Johnson & Johnson have planned a wide distribution with the intent to mitigate the risks associated with COVID-19.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered in a single dose, contrasting the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines which require two shots several weeks apart. The convenience of this system has led some to favor the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the lower efficacy rate has led others to hesitate. While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72 percent effective, Pfizer-BioNTech is about 95 percent effective after the second shot and Moderna about 94 percent effective after the second shot.
Measures of efficacy when considering which vaccine might be the best choice for each circumstance necessitate more consideration. A 72 percent efficacy does not mean that 72 percent of people who get the vaccine will contract COVID-19. Rather, efficacy measures how much the vaccine will lower the risk of a particular outcome. Zero percent efficacy would indicate that having the vaccine would make no difference, a hundred percent efficacy would mean that the risk of contracting the virus would be completely eliminated with the vaccine. When considering different outcomes, the efficacy rate is slightly different: Johnson & Johnson vaccines were 85 percent effective against severe cases that would result in hospitalization or death.
In addition to the convenience of the single shot dose of Johnson & Johnson, storage for these vaccines are significantly easier to manage than the other two manufacturers’ vaccines. These can be stored for about three months at regular refrigeration temperatures, which the New York Times notes is ideal to be distributed at sites outside of hospital settings that would allow for wider distribution such as stadiums and convention centers.
Johnson & Johnson’s single dose system and the lower risk of side effects have meant that many people who were hesitant to get other vaccines have been more open to this option. State health officials have noted that the single dose also means that facilitating vaccinations is significantly easier, particularly for communities that might be harder to reach for a second dose such as those experiencing homelessness or those on the verge of release from prison.
For the Pfizer-BioNTech an Moderna vaccines, not only do individuals have to receive a second dose of the same vaccine (an individual who received a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech, for example, could not have a second dose of Moderna), but most also do so within six weeks of their first dose. Particularly considering the issues with distribution throughout the country as individual states struggle to standardize and coordinate vaccine distribution, Johnson & Johnson’s simplicity is a valid benefit.
Although college students, part of phase 3 in the Oklahoma Health Department’s plan for vaccination, are still not eligible for state-distributed vaccinations, many students have been able to access vaccines through informal distribution when doses are about to expire or when attending a vaccine appointment for family members.
In the upcoming months, vaccines are set to become more widely available; President Joe Biden has vowed that the United States will have secured enough vaccine supplies to vaccinate every American adult by the end of May. Fill out the questionnaire on the Oklahoma State Health Department’s website to check your eligibility and receive notification when you are eligible at https://vaccinate.oklahoma.gov/covid-19%20vaccine/. For information about how to find vaccines, check https://vaccinefinder.org.