As many already know, on March 25th Governor Kemp of Georgia extended the COVID vaccine eligibility to anyone above the age of 16. (Studies involving children under the age of 16 are ongoing.) This is great news! Let us review the purpose of vaccines, the Pfizer/BioNTech, and Moderna vaccines, and introduce the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to ensure you can make an informed decision for yourself and your family.
The purpose of vaccinations is to trick the immune system into thinking that an infection has occurred so the body can produce B (antibodies) and T cells. Vaccines include microorganisms and viruses in the forms of live-attenuated (weakened), partial antigen (specific protein), or inactive (dead) – actual pieces of the disease of choice.
Currently, we have three options in the US (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) and the AstraZeneca vaccine is in the pipeline.
Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna are groundbreaking vaccines because they use mRNA (Messenger Ribonucleic Acid) technology. However, this technology is not new.
mRNA carries information from DNA (in the nucleus of a cell) to produce proteins (in the cytoplasm). In this example, both vaccines create mRNA, which will make the coronavirus's viral spike protein. If you ever looked at a picture of COVID-19, it is usually dressed with a red crown. The spike protein is part of the crown. The presence of spike proteins tricks the body into thinking it is infected with COVID and so it produces specific B (antibodies) and T cells. Therefore, if you were later naturally exposed to COVID, previously created antibodies will wake up and fight.
Pfizer and Moderna are both two-dose vaccines (two shots) with 3 weeks between administrations. (The interval between Moderna doses is 28 days; for the Pfizer vaccine, it’s 21 days.) Both shots are needed to achieve the 94-95 percent effective rate that was noted in the studies.
Batter up! Next at the plate, we have Johnson & Johnson’s version of the COVID-19 vaccine! Johnson & Johnson secured emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on February 21, 2021.
Everyone who has been around children has received, gifted, or smelled Johnson & Johnson products, especially their original baby lotion in the pink bottle. Their products range from skincare and bandages to Tylenol, but let us not forgot their presence in medicine.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines use an adenovirus vector, meaning it uses a weakened form of the adenovirus as a vector (transporter).
(Pause: I realized hearing/reading the words “Adenovirus” can give a little pause but rest assured you have already had adenovirus in your lifetime. The group of viruses called the Adenoviruses is sometimes referred to as viruses that cause “common cold.” They typically cause fever, cough, sore throat, diarrhea, and pink eye. See, you have had it at least once in their lifetime. The vector has a weakened (live-attenuated) form of the adenovirus.)
A small piece of the COVID virus is integrated into the adenovirus vector (transporter); this facilitates its transport into your body.
This vector is “foreign” and your body will start mounting a response like the mRNA vaccine. Specific B cell (antibodies) and T cell for COVID are created (primed) and would be ready to work if you become exposed to COVID at a later date. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe disease from COVID-19 and 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease. The great advance of the Johnson & Johnson virus is single-dose vaccine (only one shot!).
At the time of this blog, in the US we have vaccinated 130,473, 853 people with the use of the above three options in the US (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson). It can't be stressed enough: which vaccine you receive does not matter. We are blessed to have three options to increase the number of people who can be vaccinated.
Regardless of which vaccine you have, we should continue to practice the three Ws: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Watch your distance. We need everyone to participate to create herd immunity. Some experts estimate this will mean 60-70 percent of people across the globe. We are not sure how long immunity lasts after vaccination or the specific percentage decrease of viral transmission (you infecting others) that can be achieved. As time goes by, we will continue to learn more about COVID, COVID vaccinations, and COVID long-term effects because this is a fluid situation.
Please be patient and safe.