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Single Johnson & Johnson vaccine to start distribution: here’s what you need to know

Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson began the process of delivering its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to EU member states on Monday. In case you, like us, expected this piece of news to be released a few weeks back, you are correct. Shipments were due to start at the beginning of the month, but were delayed due to some production issues.

Dr Peter Liese, an EU lawmaker from the same party as Anglea Merkel, said: “Johnson & Johnson began vaccine shipments to the EU today. Very good news. Vaccination target of #EU may now even be exceeded.”

Liese went on to say that with this particular vaccine, you would only need one vaccination to achieve adequate protection. In this way, the jab will “massively accelerate the pace in Germany and in the EU. Not to raise your hopes or anything, but he also added that if things go well, all EU adults may be offered a vaccine by mid-summer 2021.

How many vaccines can the EU expect to receive?

Well, according to the information received, the US-based company has committed to delivering at least 50 million doses by no later than the end of June. They also promised an additional 120 million, which the EU is set to receive between July and September. A spokesperson for the company said that the deliveries will go to all 27 EU states, as well as Norway and Iceland. However, the same spokesperson did not say how many vaccines would be included in the first delivery.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved for use in the EU last month, making it the fourth vaccine to receive approval in the bloc after Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

How effective is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

First of all, according to data released by the company, which has been confirmed in an FDA analysis, the vaccine is 85% effective at preventing a severe or critical form of COVID-19, which can lead to hospitalisation or death at least 28 days after vaccination. Better yet, in the company’s phase 3 clinical trial, “there were no COVID-19 related deaths and no COVID-19 cases requiring medical intervention occurring 28 days or more post-vaccination,” even among those participants who were 60 years of age or older, with underlying conditions.

There’s more good news. Due to the fact that it requires just a single dose and has manageable temperature storage requirements, the vaccine can provide a much-needed boost to the EU’s immunisation efforts.

How does the vaccine compare to the others?

Although Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both offer COVID-19 vaccines with around 95% efficacy, all of the available vaccines offer strong and worthwhile protection, as all have been shown to protect against severe illness and death, the two most feared outcomes. It’s worth noting here, that the flu vaccine us usually up to 60% effective.

How exactly does the vaccine work?

Photo: financial times

When taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine into consideration, it modifies an existing adenovirus, which usually causes common colds, with COVID-19’s spike protein, also known as the piece of the virus that latches onto our cells. The resulting adenovirus does not have the ability to reproduce in our bodies. This means that the vaccine cannot cause us to have COVID-19 or any other illnesses for that matter.

The modified adenovirus is pulled inside your cells and it travels to the nucleus of the cell. The adenovirus then inserts its DNA into the nucleus, the spike protein gene is read by the cell and is then copied into messenger RNA, or mRNA. Then, your cells begin to create the spike proteins, which are then recognised by your immune system, causing your body to produce antibodies to the perceived threat.

In case you didn’t quite follow that: it’s like a meet and greet between your immune system and COVID-19. By means of the vaccine, your body is made aware of how to produce antibodies for the illness, without having to experience all of the side effects that come with a real COVID-19 virus. The immune system remembers how to respond to the spike protein and if you come into contact with it in the future, your body will be able to fight it more efficiently.

 That being said, it’s not exactly crystal clear how long the protection lasts or whether or not the vaccine aptly prevents person-to-person transmission of the virus, according to the FDA.

Does the Johnson vaccine work in the same way as Pfizer and Moderna?

Not entirely, no. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine works differently than the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. They both introduce a piece of genetic code that essentially tricks the body into producing COVID-19 antibodies, with no actual virus required. In a way, these vaccines skip some of the steps that adenovirus-vectored vaccines usually take. Like Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, Pfizer and Moderna’s options are the first of their kind.

Stayed tuned for more info!