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An Employer’s Guide to the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The real question here is should your employees get it?

Almost immediately after Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for use in the U.S., the conversation turned to its efficacy.

Much of the issue stems from the differing vaccine efficacy numbers for the three products; those given for the J&J vaccine are in the 70% range while Moderna and Pfizer are more than 90%. However, experts insist that these percentages don’t tell a complete story.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the J&J vaccine:

  • It’s a single dose vaccine, so it requires only one visit to a vaccination site.
  • The vaccine was approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC because it’s safe. 
  • This vaccine was tested after these new variants emerged, so it’s kind of like comparing apples to oranges here; it’s hard to say how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would have performed if they had been tested at the same time as the J&J vaccine.
  • It’s critically important to note that the J&J vaccine is 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths from COVID. 
  • All three companies are continuing to study if a booster shot might increase their efficacy rate for moderate illness with the variants.

We do want to note that there are some key benefits to the J&J vaccine, specifically that it’s easier to transport because it doesn’t need to be frozen. Plus, it’s only one dose, which frees up individuals from having to make another appointment to get another shot. 

Here’s a look at how all three vaccines compare.

Should we take the J&J vaccine if it’s available to us? Why not wait for Pfizer or Moderna which are allegedly more effective? 

The best vaccine is the one in your arm, so we encourage you and your employees to take whichever first becomes available to you. All three COVID vaccines, including J&J’s, are safe and incredibly effective at preventing COVID-related hospitalization and death. 

Zooming out for a moment, a third vaccine is also a benefit because it’s one step closer to herd immunity. Though we’re still a long way away from that, the J&J vaccine will allow us the opportunity to move that timeline up A LOT, especially considering it’s much easier to transport and, unlike the other two vaccines, only requires a single shot.

Does it contain live virus? 

Nope. Unlike Moderna and Pfizer, which have both developed mRNA vaccines, J&J’s uses a more traditional vaccine delivery method. Basically, you can think of it as a dead version of a common cold virus with all the bad parts removed. Like a Trojan horse, the vaccine uses the inactive cold virus to carry the instructions for making the spike proteins that protect against the coronavirus into the body, where cells make harmless copies of that protein so the immune system is prepared when the real virus comes along. The gene that’s used in this vaccine cannot incorporate into human DNA. There’s an Ebola vaccine using the exact same delivery method that’s been studied and used safely on people, including children and pregnant women.

Will people need to go back for a second dose of the J&J vaccine later?

It’s possible, but it’s difficult to say for sure. This is currently being studied in a Phase 3 trial using a two-dose series separated by 56 days. The data aren’t available yet, but the CDC will weigh in if the benefits suggest that two doses are better than one. Moderna and Pfizer are also working on clinical trials testing a third shot for their own vaccines, studying the same questions. It may turn out that all of these vaccines need boosters, or even annual shots, like the flu. Or we might see long-lasting protection from just the initial doses. We’ll just have to wait and see the outcomes of all the research that’s currently underway.

The Takeaway?

We can’t stress this enough: take whichever vaccine is available to you. Once you are vaccinated, you slash your chances of serious illness or death from COVID.

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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.