UAB infectious disease expert answers questions on Johnson and Johnson vaccine

Updated: Feb. 7, 2021 at 10:29 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama has administered more than 400,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. February 8th, 2021 is the first day for those in the 1B category to begin getting their vaccinations and state health leaders said this means more than one million people across the state now qualify.

Health officials at UAB say it could take a while to vaccinate everyone in this next phase, but if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets approved by the FDA, it could go faster.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a very good vaccine,” UAB infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Saag said. “For people that might be living in a community where it is hard to have all that cold chain maintained for Pfizer or Moderna, the J&J vaccine is much easier to get to more remote areas.”

The one-shot vaccine is said to be less effective than the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, but Saag says that doesn’t mean it’s not as good.

“66% overall,” Saag said. “But, that included 57% efficacy in South Africa. In the United States, it was over 70 pushing 75 percent. It performs better than any other influenza vaccines every thought about doing.”

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine uses a less harmful virus with COVID characteristics which is different from the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which don’t use any actual viruses.

Saag said it’s effectiveness may not be as high as the other two options, but it is still protective.

“Not only did it protect 70 to 75 percent of people in the United States from getting any symptoms at all,” he said. “It prevented 100 percent of hospitalizations and there were no deaths due to COVID.”

Dr. Saag said while this one-shot vaccine is a great option, it doesn’t mean those getting Moderna or Pfizer vaccines don’t need to get their second shots.

“The first shot does pretty well in terms of getting some protection on board, but the second shot taken 3 to four weeks later, maintains the durability over time,” Saag said about the two-shot vaccines. “The concern would be with the Moderna or Pfizer, if you don’t get the second shot, that there may be more waning immunity down the road, say six months from now.”

Saag said if approved, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could help eliminate vaccine storage issues and speed up the vaccination process.

“I think it is a fabulous vaccine,” he said.

The FDA is set to take about three weeks to review the application for emergency use.

Click here to find vaccination locations.

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