J&J vaccine means more availability, flexibility

The addition of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to Sanford Jackson Medical Center’s arsenal means increased availability for local residents and additional flexibility for medical center staff.

Sanford Jackson Medical Center is currently administering all three brands of COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in the United States — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.

“We are ready to handle either vaccine at any of our locations,” said Dawn Schnell, senior director of Sanford Jackson, which last week administered its 2,000 dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s good to have different types of vaccines available for use, Schnell said, especially ones with different storage and handling requirements and dosing recommendations, as they can offer more options and flexibility for local vaccine providers.

Kevin Kimm, doctor of osteopathic medicine at Sanford Jackson, said while the vaccines are not exactly the same, they accomplish the same things. The main difference is the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two shots, while the Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only one.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA to trigger an immune response. In effect, they teach the body’s cells how to make a protein — or even just a piece of a protein — that triggers an immune response. That immune response produces antibodies, which protects the body from getting infected if the real virus enters.

Meanwhile, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine uses viral vectors to trigger immunity. Viral-vector vaccines use a modified version of a different virus to deliver instructions to the body’s cells. For COVID-19 viral-vector vaccines, the vector — not the virus that causes COVID-19, but a different, harmless virus — will enter a cell in the body and then use the cell’s machinery to produce a harmless piece of the virus that causes COVID-19. This piece is known as a spike protein and it is only found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Another difference is the storage requirements. The Pfizer vaccine requires ultracold storage — 76 to 112 degrees below zero — while the Moderna vaccine can be stored at 20 degrees below, or normal freezer temperatures. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperatures.

“We track the temperature of all vaccines through the entire life of the vaccine until it reaches the patient,” Schnell said.

Kimm said despite the differences in the vaccines, the important thing is what they have in common — namely, they all have been proven effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Kimm advises getting the vaccine regardless of which is made available.

“We are not picking favorites on which vaccine to take,” he said. “Availability should be the ultimate determining factor. The efficacy is similar.”

Kimm said the vaccines share another key factor — people have to get the shots for them to work.

“Obviously, everyone needs to stay vigilant with social distancing, masking and hand hygiene as we move into what we hope is the final stage in our battle against COVID-19,” Kimm said. “But the vaccines won’t work unless we use them.”


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