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Johnson & Johnson Vaccine - A Welcome Addition to the Toolbox

Preliminary data from Johnson&Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine trial have just been released and while not spectacular, the results are encouraging.

There are several take-away’s from the Johnson & Johnson trial but most worthy is the 85% efficacy in preventing severe illness and 100% efficacy in preventing deaths in the 28 day period following vaccination. The efficacy in preventing any symptoms was 66%, significantly less than the 90-95% for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and this will likely be portrayed as disappointing. It should not be.

What is really worrisome with this disease is the prospect of ending up in hospital with serious symptoms and possibly dying. Preventing these to the extent of 85 and 100% will have a huge impact on the population. Furthermore, the trial included a representative cross-section of the population and included subjects with pre-existing conditions such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and HIV infection. This was not the case with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. So this vaccine, which is a single dose, and does not require extreme low-temperature storage, is not one to be scoffed at.|Globally, it can have a large impact in taking steps towards herd immunity.

The Johnson &Johnson vaccine uses a different platform than Pfizer and Moderna’s. It is not based on mRNA but rather on an adenovirus that has been genetically manipulated to trigger the production of the virus’ spike protein that will then induce antibody formation. In that sense, the goal is the same, just arrived at by a different path. There were no significant side effects associated with the vaccine, in fact, more such effects were seen in the placebo group. One troubling finding was the lower efficacy found in South Africa and Latin America suggesting that the vaccine is not as effective against variants that have taken a foothold there.

This is what I can glean from the data in the press release and we will have to wait for further analysis until the detailed results are released. The company is also carrying out a trial with two doses of the vaccine, which may increase efficacy but those results will not be available for a while. Since this virus will likely become endemic, we will have to live with it and any tool that lessens the severity of infection is welcome.


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