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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: Advantages of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine cleared by US

Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which store the instructions in single-stranded RNA, the J&J vaccine uses double-stranded DNA.

By: New York Times |
Updated: March 1, 2021 9:58:15 am
Surge in COVID-19 vaccination (Johnson & Johnson via AP, File)

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday authorised Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, beginning the rollout of millions of doses of a third effective vaccine that could reach Americans by early next week.

The announcement arrived at a critical moment, as the steep decline in coronavirus cases in the US seemed to have plateaued, and millions of Americans were on waiting lists for shots. As of Sunday night (India time), the US had 28.55 million confirmed cases and 512,000 deaths, the Johns Hopkins University database showed.

J&J has pledged to provide the US with 100 million doses by the end of June. When combined with the 600 million doses from the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna slated to arrive by the end of July, there will be more than enough shots to cover any American adult who wants one.

Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, advised Americans on Saturday to not concern themselves needlessly over the J&J vaccine’s 72% efficacy rate in the US clinical trial site, less than the roughly 95% in studies testing the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

“Don’t get caught up, necessarily, on the number game, because it’s a really good vaccine, and what we need is as many good vaccines as possible,” Dr Fauci said in an interview. “Rather than parsing the difference between 94 and 72, accept the fact that now you have three highly effective vaccines. Period.”

The J&J vaccine, known as JNJ-78436735 or Ad26.COV2.S., has been developed by Janssen Pharmaceutica, a Belgium-based division of the company, in collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School in Boston.

The vaccine is based on the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s genetic instructions for building the spike protein that it uses to enter human cells. But unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which store the instructions in single-stranded RNA, the J&J vaccine uses double-stranded DNA.

Also, the J&J vaccine is adenovirus-based, which is a more rugged type than the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. DNA is not as fragile as RNA, and the adenovirus’s tough protein coat helps protect the genetic material inside. As a result, the J&J vaccine can be refrigerated for up to three months at 2-8°C.

Again, unlike the Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca (a variant of which is being manufactured under licence as Covishield by Serum Institute of India) and even the Bharat Biotech (Covaxin) vaccine, the J&J vaccine is given as a single dose.

On Sunday, a committee of vaccine experts who advise the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention were to meet to discuss whether certain population groups should be prioritised for the vaccine.

J&J began work on its coronavirus vaccine in January 2020, and received $456 million in assistance from the US government in March. Phase 1/ 2 trials began in July, and in September, the company began phase 3 trials.

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