Over the past two weeks, vaccines have opened up to people ages 16 and up in many states and the age requirement has been lowering in others. While teenagers, ages 16 to 17 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines are the two other vaccines being offered nationwide.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to deliver the vaccine, which delivers the vaccine to the cells and tells your body how to identify and strike Covid-19. However, the J&J vaccine uses an older technology that uses disabled adenovirus to deliver the directions for how to identify and attack Covid-19. Along with the different uses of technology, the J&J only requires a single dose, while the Pfizer and Moderna require two doses, and the J&J vaccine does not have a specific storage requirement like the mRNA vaccines. The easier storage and single dose makes the J&J vaccine very helpful for rural communities that may not have proper storage, in addition to helping those who have limited transportation options or minimal time to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
When looking at the three vaccines, the most important factor to consider is the efficacy at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid-19. The J&J, Moderna and Pfizer vaccines all have a 100 percent efficacy rate in preventing hospitalization and death, but they vary in their efficacy in preventing Covid-19. The J&J had a 66.3 percent efficacy rate in clinical trials in terms of warding off Covid-19; the Pfizer vaccine has been found to be 95 percent effective in preventing Covid-19, with the Moderna vaccine not far behind at a 94.1 percent efficacy rate. While the J&J vaccine has lower efficacy at preventing Covid-19, the clinical trial testing occurred later than with the first two vaccines, so the J&J vaccine was also compared against recent variants. Additionally, the J&J vaccine has been found in a more recent study across three continents to be 85 percent effective against severe cases of Covid-19, including in South Africa where many citizens are facing concerning variants.
“I think it is important for members of the community to get vaccinated for two reasons,” senior Spencer Gibbs said. “The first, from a more selfish perspective, is that it will allow for activities and life as a whole to get back to normal quicker, as viral spread will drastically decrease, but it is also important because, if enough people get vaccines, a herd immunity will be created that will allow for immunocompromised and immune-supressed individuals to be safer, providing a benefit to everyone.”
Over 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered as of Apr. 12 in the U.S.; however, on Tuesday, Apr. 13, federal health officials have put a pause on the administration of the J&J vaccine due to concerns about severe side effects. The J&J vaccine has had six reported cases of blood clots, prompting the pause and making the instance of blood clots 1 out of 1.1 million vaccinations. The six cases of blood clots occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 48, who all developed rare blood-clotting disorders within six to thirteen days of receiving their vaccine. One of the six women died, while another is in critical condition.
“Almost seven million Johnson and Johnson vaccines have been administered with only six blood clotting cases reported, putting the risk at less than one in one million which is lower than the percentage of blood clotting cases reported within the general population each year,” AP Biology teacher Ariel Evans said. “The fact that the FDA and CDC were so quick to call for a pause on the J&J vaccine following those reports tells me that adverse effects are being closely monitored and makes me feel more confident in the vaccines that are currently available and the J&J once it is available again.”
Additionally, many vaccines sites across the country shut down due to other adverse reactions. On Apr. 8 in North Carolina, many places stopped administering J&J vaccines, as they saw 26 cases of adverse reactions which included fainting. On the evening of Apr. 8, a vaccination site in Wake County, North Carolina stopped giving out the J&J vaccines due to 18 adverse reactions out of over 2,300 people who had been vaccinated, including four who were taken to hospitals. On Apr. 11, Georgia became the third state to announce they had shut down J&J vaccine sites, joining Colorado and North Carolina. Georgia saw eight people experience adverse reactions at a vaccine site after receiving the J&J vaccine on Wednesday, Apr. 7; that same day, 11 people at a vaccination site in Colorado had unfortunate reactions, leading to the shut down of the site.
“The blood clotting is very concerning. I feel that people should wait for Pfizer or Moderna,” senior Aria Douglas said. “I did not really get to choose [my vaccine] but I’m glad I got Pfizer because I have not heard of many side effects.”
The effect of these reactions has spread throughout the world, as J&J is pushing back the rollout of their vaccine in Europe which was set to begin soon. South Africa suspended the use of the J&J vaccine and Australia declared that they would not purchase any doses of the vaccine.
In a joint statement between the CDC and FDA, they announced that they will be reviewing the cases on Wednesday, Apr. 14 to determine the safety of administering the J&J vaccine. The main reason for placing this pause is to help the healthcare community be aware of the possibility of these reactions and how to treat them. Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci stated that those who received the vaccine a month or longer ago should not be concerned about experiencing these reactions. The CDC and FDA advise those who experience extreme headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the J&J vaccine should contact their healthcare provider.
“I think there is risk involved in everything we do and it is important that people evaluate for themselves what level of risk they are comfortable with,” Evans said. “I think it is most important that members of the community get vaccinated so that we can protect those who cannot get the vaccine and those who are at high risk of complications from a severe COVID-19 infection.”