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BALLARO: Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not be looked down upon

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, which can be useful for people who do not have time to set up the two appointments needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.  – Photo by Flickr.com

With President Joseph R. Biden’s new April 19 vaccine eligibility deadline and Rutgers’ vaccine mandate, now is as good a time to start thinking about your coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines.

Vaccines. What is the deal?

On March 28, NBC’s long running Saturday Night Live aired a music video titled “Boomers Got the Vax”, when the following verse caught my ear.

“Pfizer, Moderna, I know you wur-na / Get one, but you gotta wait your tur-na / I get to the vax site, I get what I want son / You get what's left b***h, Johnson & Johnson!”

I would not consider myself someone that typically goes up to bat for Johnson & Johnson. I definitely have had some choice words to say about Johnson & Johnson in the past — to put it lightly.

As a student of public health, I think Johnson & Johnson's Janssen single dose vaccine has a lot of potential benefits for combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, what is the difference between the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines? The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a traditional vaccine method know as a viral vector where it distributes instructions to the body on how to fight the COVID-19 virus through an incapacitate adenovirus. This adenovirus cannot reproduce nor give you a viral infection. 

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead utilize messenger RNA (mRNA) technology to deliver the instructions. To recap from your high school biology class, RNA is the precursor to DNA, which is the code your body uses to function. The mRNA vaccines contain instructions to teach your body how to create a spike protein, which is a special protein that sticks itself onto the virus and causes your body to initiate an immune response when infected.

In all cases, with either the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna, the COVID-19 vaccine cannot alter your DNA

I think the reason why the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is looked down is because it only provides 66 percent effectiveness in preventing moderate to severe/critical disease resulting from COVID-19 as opposed to Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines 95 percent and 94 percent respectively. That said, there is more to vaccines than just effectiveness.

With Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines, you need to receive two doses, with your second dose administered 21 or 28 days after the first dose, respectively. With the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you only need one dose, set-it-and-forget-it.

First, let me explain the importance of full versus partial vaccination.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were formulated, tested and approved all under the condition of being administered via two doses. You need to get both in order to be fully vaccinated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose in order to become fully vaccinated.

While a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has indicated that partial vaccination, less than or equal 14 days after the first dose but before the second dose, was 80 percent effective at reducing COVID-19 infection in health care workers, it does not negate the benefits of full vaccination.

Not getting two doses is where things get dicey. It opens the potential for creating a vaccine-resistant strain of the COVID-19 virus. 

You do not have to take my word for it, just ask fellow Anthony and classics major, White House chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

During a White House news briefing when asked about only receiving one dose of a two part vaccine, Fauci said “When you look at the level of protection after one dose, you can say it’s 80 percent, but it is somewhat of a tenuous 80 percent … When you leave it at one dose, the question is how long does it last?”

Taking only a single dose and having partial immunity can result in vaccine resistant strains of COVID-19 developing.

So while some people are scrambling to line up two separate dates for their Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, once you get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine you are good to go.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be a good fit for you if you find yourself with a hectic schedule or easily missing appointments. While the roughly 30 percent difference in effectiveness between the Johnson & Johnson and double-dose vaccines is not negligible, 66 percent is a whole lot more effective than 0 percent.

Possibly the most important takeaway I can give to you is, whatever first vaccine you get probably will not be your last. At the moment, we do not know exactly how long each vaccine bestowed immunity. Only time will tell if and and when how many COVID-19 booster shots will be needed in the future. 

Ultimately, which vaccine you choose to get it up to you and your circumstances. This is all withstanding potential limitations due to insurance or site availability, of course.

For further information regarding the Rutgers’ vaccine portal, consult the Rutgers site and follow The Daily Targum for more vaccine coverage. Anthony Ballaro is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in classics and public health. His column, "Hindsight is 20/21," runs on alternate Thursdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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