Here’s what makes J&J vaccine different than the others

J&J vaccine uses harmless, weakened cold virus to carry instructions into body

Here's what you should known about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before it rolls out.
Here's what you should known about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before it rolls out.

The biggest difference is that Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine only requires one dose and makes it easier to give in remote areas where getting people back for a second dose may be difficult.

But that is just one of the differences.

Here’s what to know about the J&J vaccine:

The J&J vaccine can be stored in a normal refrigerator unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines -- it’s not a mRNA vaccine.

Instead, the J&J vaccine uses a harmless, weakened cold virus to carry instructions into the body to trigger the immune response and a method developed a decade ago and used for an ebola vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky is a native Michigander. He used this Motown metaphor to describe the vaccine:

“Think of it as a car being made in Detroit with a basic chassis that had been used, and we took the different types of an interior and put it in for COVID-19,” said Gorsky.

Testing, efficacy

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been tested on nearly 44,000 people in United States, Latin America and South Africa. There have been no major side effects, including no allergic reactions.

It was 72% effective at preventing moderate and severe COVID symptoms and 85% effective at preventing the most serious symptoms.

That is less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that are roughly 95% effective, but those vaccines were also tested earlier before more variants may have been circulating.

The J&J vaccine was 57% effective against the South African strain, but no one in the trials went to the hospital or died of COVID.

“The way I think about this vaccine is it helps 100% of people,” said Dr. Mathai Mammen, of J&J research and development. “It either stops you from getting COVID or it helps you if you get COVID, have a milder version.”

South Africa is already rolling out the J&J vaccine. South Africa had planned to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, but after it was found to ineffective against the South African variant which is dominant there, the decision was made to switch to Johnson & Johnson.

Feb. 16: South Africa readies to give J&J jabs to health care workers

“The safety results look amazing, and the interim efficacy results for Johnson & Johnson look promising, especially in light of the new variants circulating in South Africa,” said Umunnakwe, a virologist at Ndlovu Research Centre.

Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit also was one of the clinical sites for the J&J vaccine, so many Metro Detroiters have already received the vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson is running an additional trial to test effectiveness of a second dose of its vaccine. Those results are expected this spring.

Feb. 24: FDA says J&J 1-dose shot prevents COVID; final decision soon

Feb. 4: Johnson & Johnson asks US regulators to OK its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine


More: Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge answers COVID vaccine questions


About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.