Experts worry over public’s perception of Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout

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(WDVM) — With the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States, new discussion is cropping up based on the differences between brands, with Johnson & Johnson’s 66% effectiveness being a particular point of contention.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, compared to the 95% effectiveness of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is also a one-dose vaccine that does not need to be kept at extremely low temperatures, unlike both Pfizer and Moderna.

These characteristics are causing unease amongst some citizens, who worry that the “less effective” Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be targeted at lower-income communities, rural communities and minorities.

These people are right; but experts worry they are not seeing the full picture.

“I’m very worried about how that would be perceived,” said Dr. Thomas Balcezak of Yale New Haven Health System.

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does have a 66% effectiveness rating for protecting against moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, the single-dose shot is 85% effective when only severe cases are looked at. This vaccine was also tested against newer, more contagious virus mutations, which Pfizer and Moderna did not have to do during their testing trials. Most importantly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death, which is the main goal for any vaccine.

“I think what you want from this vaccine is you want it to keep you out of the hospital, out of the intensive care unit and to keep you from dying,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “And certainly, all the vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine appear to do exactly that. That’s what you want. And certainly, all vaccines provide that.”

The reason why these vaccines may end up in lower-income or minority areas has less to do with the vaccine efficacy, and more to do with the vaccine’s stability.

“It is refrigerator stable, it can be shipped and stored at refrigerator temperatures. Once it gets to the final place where it’s going to be administered, it’s stable and refrigerated for three months. It’s given as a single shot,” said Offit.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine could be extremely beneficial for vaccinating residents in areas where the refrigeration of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is a huge challenge, and where many vaccines could potentially be wasted because they are not able to be used in the necessary window of time. It could also be useful for vaccinating populations like homeless people, who are often transient and are harder to track down to administer a second dose.

“I don’t think it’s a second-tier vaccine, but we’ve got to avoid that perception,” said Balcezak.

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