Nationwide, people are grappling with the weight of life during the coronavirus pandemic as they reflect on an entire year living under some kind of lockdown. For many, the pandemic has meant working from home, less physical contact with family and friends, and a complete change in how they interact with everyday life in an effort to keep themselves and their loved ones safer from the deadly virus.
But there is some hope for relief, now that a third vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use in the US. Johnson & Johnson has also applied for approval in the UK. Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine is now being administered across the United States for people ages 18 and older. Despite the fact that there are now even more vaccines being made available to millions of people across the country, some are skeptical that the J&J vaccine is less effective than the Moderna and Pfizer two-dose vaccines, due to lower efficacy numbers.
Media reports on the new vaccine have focused their attention on its efficacy rate: 72% for Johnson & Johnson, compared to 94% for Moderna and 95% for Pfizer. But the lower rate shouldn't discourage anyone from getting the single-dose vaccine, which is equally as effective as the other two at preventing serious illness, according to The New York Times. The J&J vaccine's lower effectiveness number refers only to its ability to prevent all infections as a result of contracting the SARS-Cov-2 virus.
While it may not be as good at preventing mild COVID cases, Johnson & Johnson's single dose is just as successful as the other two at preventing the most serious cases of this virus, and that's most important. For more context, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also more effective than the flu jab. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine."
Dr Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco told The New York Times that with any of the three vaccines, "There's essentially no chance you will die of COVID, which is breathtaking." This is notable, considering the virus has killed more than half a million people in the US over the last year.
The goal of any of the three vaccines is not to completely root out COVID-19, which is likely here to stay. Instead, the hope is to turn the virus into something like a mild flu or the common cold while we seek to achieve herd immunity and in that regard, things are looking up.
"When you think of what do you want from a vaccine, you don't want to go to the hospital, and you certainly don’t want to die," Johnson & Johnson CEO and Chairman Alex Gorsky told CNBC's Squawk Box. "And what we have seen as far as 100% efficacy in those parameters, again with a single shot."
Experts say they would recommend any of the three vaccines and suggest that people get whichever one is first made available to them. That is our best possible tool when it comes to moving past the pandemic. Lisa Lee, an infectious disease epidemiologist and public health ethicist at Virginia Tech, said last month that a third vaccine option "substantially reduces the time it takes the US to reach herd immunity." Lee also noted that as more of the population becomes vaccinated, there is less opportunity for further mutations of the virus to develop. "When we stop transmitting between people, we also stop the opportunity for mutation," she told CNBC.
After a long year in relative isolation, as people sit with the grief of losing their old ways of living and their loved ones and the uncertainty of what comes next, it's only natural that they might question the efficacy of a new vaccine. We've been dealt so many blows in the last year, after all. But rest assured that if your time comes for the vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson single-dose job is made available to you, it's just one more layer of protection for all of us.