Why We’re Encouraged by Johnson & Johnson's Vaccine Data
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Why We’re Encouraged by Johnson & Johnson's Vaccine Data

Initial news reports about the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reported that it was “only 66% effective.” If we could edit those stories, we would strike the “only” and replace it with “a remarkable.” We would write: “The Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 is a remarkable 66% effective.” Here’s why we think the announcement of Johnson & Johnson’s data is very good news for everyone.

The 66% number doesn’t tell the whole story. When we look deeper, we learn that the vaccine was 72% effective in the United States. It was 57% effective in South Africa, where a new variant is circulating widely. Regardless of location, the vaccine was 85% effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations and 100% effective at preventing deaths. Sure. With this vaccine, you might be slightly more likely to get a mild case of COVID, one that would keep you home for a few days. For doctors and nurses, a vaccine that prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths is a good vaccine.

What’s more, the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 is more effective than well-trusted vaccines for other illnesses. For instance, the flu vaccine is typically less than 60% effective. We rely on it to prevent the flu, and it does.

It’s easier to produce, store, and transport. Johnson & Johnson predicts that it could produce a billion doses by the end of the year, which would make a huge impact in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

It needs refrigeration only, not a freezer, as the Moderna vaccine does, or an ultracold freezer, like the Pfizer vaccine. With storage and transport restrictions like these, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be easier to make available to far more people.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is delivered in one shot. That means that it can vaccinate twice as many people with the same number of doses. Note that Moderna reported only a 50.8% efficacy after the first dose, and Pfizer reported 52.4% efficacy after the first dose.

As a bonus, the first reports claim that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has even milder side effects than either of the other two available, of which are neither common or severe.

I am grateful for all of the things that make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine different from the other two vaccines available. I am also grateful for the one thing it has in common: it works. This vaccine will help us prevent severe illness, hospitalizations, deaths, and further mutations.

Marie George, MD, FIDSA, is an infectious disease specialist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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