What to Know About the Johnson & Johnson COVID Vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • Health experts hope that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available to the public within the next few weeks.
  • The vaccine is formulated differently than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and would require only one dose.
  • This would be the third COVID-19 vaccine in circulation in the United States.

There’s another new vaccine joining the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing further hope to American families that a return to normalcy may be on the horizon.

Corporate powerhouse Johnson & Johnson has come forward with its own version of a COVID-19 vaccination. Health experts expect this vaccine to be the next to receive the coveted Emergency Use Authorization, or EUA, by the federal government for immediate use.

Having a third vaccine in circulation should help get more shots in arms over the next several months, and could help alleviate supply issues for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Read on to learn more about what your family should know about the J&J vaccine.

How Does the J&J Vaccine Differ From Pfizer and Moderna?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was designed to be slightly different from the existing vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. First and most importantly for the general public, it’s currently intended to be a single-dose vaccine, instead of being delivered as a series of two vaccinations.

That’s not the only difference, however. The Johnson & Johnson shot is an adenovirus-vectored vaccine rather than an mRNA vaccine. That’s science-speak for a vaccine that uses a common cold virus (commonly called an adenovirus), to hitchhike the coronavirus genes to produce those same viral proteins, explains Dr. Nitin Desai, MD, CEO and chief medical officer of COVID PreCheck.

As a result, the J&J vaccine does have a slightly lower rate of effectiveness than its counterparts: both the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine boast effective rates in the mid-90% range, while J&J’s effectiveness at preventing moderate to severe COVID symptoms hovers around 66% in the US, 28 days after receiving the shot.

This is due largely to the fact that the vaccine doesn’t contain messenger RNA like Pfizer and Moderna shots do, and in part because it’s a one-dose vaccine. It's worth noting, though, that trials showed Johnson & Johnson's vaccine offering complete protection against hospitalization and death from COVID after 28 days. This is ultimately the most important thing as we strive toward herd immunity.

Either way, it’s a suitable solution to the short supply of COVID-19 vaccines that currently exists, and can likely give more Americans protection from the virus in short order, says Desai. What’s more, the vaccine doesn’t require refrigeration due to its lack of mRNA, and can therefore be distributed more quickly and effectively than Moderna and Pfizer shots.

Is the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Safe? 

Yes! According to Desai, “the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has an acceptable safety profile and could be an alternative for some with a history of allergies to other vaccines or their ingredients.”

That’s great news for people who might be naturally wary of vaccines and thus struggling with the decision to get this important shot. “In clinical trials, there have been fewer severe side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, including reactions like anaphylaxis,” Desai says.

Should You Get the J&J Vaccine If You're Pregnant?

There are still some unknowns regarding the use of COVID vaccines among pregnant individuals, says Desai. “J&J vaccine safety in pregnant women has not been tested, and safety data are not yet available.”

Despite this, in studies conducted to date, there is no evidence that there is a detrimental effect of the COVID vaccine on pregnancy, says board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and infertility expert Dr. Barry Witt, medical director for WINFertility.

“One concern that has been raised is that the coronavirus’s spike protein shares small stretches of the same genetic code as placental protein, and that this could result in an immune reaction against the placenta,” Witt says. “However, these proteins are otherwise completely different in structure and the vaccine does not induce an immune reaction against the placental protein, so this should not be a concern.”

Importantly, neither the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) nor the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommend withholding any COVID vaccine from pregnant or lactating women, assuming they otherwise meet the criteria for obtaining the vaccine (over age 16 for Pfizer and over age 18 for Moderna).

It’s also important to remember that a COVID infection can potentially be more dangerous and/or severe for pregnant women, so this should be weighed into the decision to receive a vaccine or not.

When Can I Get the J&J Vaccine? 

Johnson & Johnson released results of the clinical trials for its COVID-19 vaccine at the end of January, and It’s expected that an approval for use could come by the end of this month. That could mean a full-scale vaccination effort could occur as early as March of this year.

The company has already entered into an agreement with the US government for 100 million doses, but that number could rise to 200 million doses after an EUA is issued.

What About My Kids?

As with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, children were not a part of initial Johnson & Johnson clinical trials, and will not be eligible to receive the vaccine until it is shown to be effective—and safe—for kids. That makes it all the more important for adults to sign up to be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

Fortunately, evidence continues to show that kids are less likely to face severe COVID symptoms in the event that they do become infected.

What This Means For You

For now, it’s too early to schedule your appointment for a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But things are looking hopeful that soon, the current vaccine shortage will resolve itself once a third vaccine option becomes available.

Given the safety and efficacy of all three vaccines, receiving a COVID-19 shot seems like the best option when it comes to closing the curtain on the coronavirus pandemic. 

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  1. Wastnedge EAN, Reynolds RM, van Boeckel SR, et al. Pregnancy and COVID-19Physiological Reviews. 2021;101(1):303-318. doi:10.1152/physrev.00024.2020