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Local Expert Says Johnson & Johnson's COVID Vaccine Is 'Almost Equivalent' To Moderna, Pfizer

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Another COVID-19 vaccine could get FDA approval in the coming weeks.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine phase three trial, which included local participants, shows it's more effective at preventing severe cases of COVID and eventually eliminated hospitalizations and death in the trial.

It's less effective overall than the two approved vaccines, but experts say this vaccine is definitely worth taking.

Johnson & Johnson says its COVID vaccine is 66% effective overall at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 a month after vaccination, a rate that may cause concern as it's less effective than the two that are already approved.

"If I were in the general public right now my first reaction would be, well, I want the one that protects me the most," said infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm.

But here's the thing:

"Prior to Moderna and Pfizer, any vaccine that got to 50% efficacy was going to be held worth distributing," said Dr. Frank Rhame, Allina Health infectious disease specialist, and principal investigator for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial site at Allina Health's Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

"Protection got better the farther you got out from the vaccination and that if we followed it an additional 6 or 7 months it might've been a superior vaccine to Moderna and Pfizer," said Osterholm.

Our flu vaccines, for example, are typically way less effective than the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine.

"It's clear that influenza vaccine at 40% saves tens of thousands of lives a year," said Rhame. "That's quite a benefit at 40% efficacy."

Allina Health had 230 local participants in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial. You only need one dose and it doesn't require ultra-cold storage.

It was actually 72% effective in U.S. patients, 85% effective against severe disease and virtually eliminated hospitalizations and deaths after 28 days.

"For sure we'd all be flocking to it if it weren't for Moderna and Pfizer that had a higher efficacy," said Rhame.

So bottom line?

"We think this is a very positive development," said Osterholm.

"Remember, this vaccine looks like it's going to keep the virus from killing you," said Rhame.

"We've got to do a better job of helping the public understand these are really, in my mind, three almost equivalent vaccines," said Osterholm. "One dose, stable vaccine, use it."

Rhame thinks if the vaccine gets FDA approval, it will still be roughly a month before anyone can get it.

There's currently research to see if two doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be more effective.

Rhame said the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were tested in a variant-free world.

He thinks doing this trial with variants circulating could have made an impact.


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