On March 8, 2021, UC San Diego Health received its first allotment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (developed with Janssen Pharmaceuticals) for COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on February 27, 2021, is the third vaccine approved to help end the current pandemic.
UC San Diego Health began using the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in December, and has inoculated approximately 160,000 health care workers, patients and others under eligibility criteria determined by the State of California, Centers for Disease Control and other public health agencies.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be incorporated into current vaccination distribution programs at UC San Diego Health. Distribution will depend upon available vaccine supply.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require two injections spaced 21 to 28 days apart to achieve full efficacy, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine involves a single injection. Also, the vaccine does not require ultra-cold storage. It can be stored in standard refrigerators at temperatures between 35.6 to 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and remains stable for months.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on a novel mRNA technology. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine employs an older approach: An inactivated common cold virus is modified to carry the SARS-CoV-2’s characteristic spike protein, which the virus uses to enter host cells. This vaccine is injected, and the presence of the spike protein prompts the human immune system to create neutralizing antibodies to block the targeted pathogen, essentially rendering subsequent exposures to the coronavirus as non-infectious.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine strategy builds upon their extensive experience using the same vaccine platform for many other infectious diseases, including HIV, Ebola and malaria,” said Susan Little, MD, professor of medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and principal investigator of the UC San Diego trial arm of the Johnson & Johnson Phase III clinical trial. “No significant safety issues have been identified in studies of more than 100,000 people using this same vaccine platform for other infectious diseases.”
Clinical trial data found that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had a 72 percent overall efficacy rate in the United States and 64 percent in South Africa, where a highly contagious coronavirus variant is now prevalent.
Notably, said Little, clinical trials data found that the vaccine was highly effective against severe forms of COVID-19, significantly reducing risk of hospitalization or death. The vaccine’s protection was found to be generally consistent across all age groups and ethnicities. Adverse side effects, such as headache, fatigue and soreness, were milder than currently available mRNA vaccines. And there were no reports of serious allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis.
Patty Maysent, CEO, UC San Diego Health, said a third vaccine will help ease supply concerns and accelerate and broaden vaccination outreach. “More vaccine is indisputably a good thing, but this pandemic is a long-term challenge requiring a long-term remedy. Until we reach herd immunity and public health experts declare the pandemic over, we must continue to mask, distance, wash our hands and follow all appropriate measures.”