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Alaska coronavirus Q&A: What’s different about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

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New developments in the world of COVID-19 vaccines are coming at us fast.

Alaska dramatically broadened its vaccine eligibility last week. And the Food and Drug Administration recently issued an emergency use authorization for the first single-dose coronavirus vaccine, developed by the drug company Johnson & Johnson.

Public health officials say that authorization means approximately 9,000 doses of the new vaccine could be on the way to Alaska by mid-March.

Here, we’re sharing everything we know about the new vaccine, plus more clarity on who’s now eligible to get vaccinated and what side effects you can expect.

[Have a question of your own? Feel free to drop it in form at the bottom of this article.]

How safe and effective is the new vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson?

The FDA’s decision to authorize the J&J vaccine for use by people 18 and older was based on an assessment that it was safe. The agency determined that no serious safety concerns were observed during the vaccine’s clinical trials, which involved over 40,000 participants internationally.

Data from those trials also show that the new vaccine is extremely effective (85%) at preventing severe illness caused by COVID-19, but apparently less so than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and also less so in places where certain variants are responsible for a majority of cases.

The vaccine’s overall efficacy rate at preventing moderate or severe illness from COVID-19 in the U.S. was 72%, but in South Africa, where a new variant was spreading rapidly, that rate was just 57%. In contrast, both Moderna and Pfizer’s overall vaccine efficacy rates are closer to 95%.

Still, the J&J vaccine is considered effective in the world of vaccines. The influenza vaccines, for example, are typically between 40% and 60% effective.

How else does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine compare to the other two vaccines?

Similar to the other two now-available mRNA vaccines, officials say, the J&J vaccine is safe and highly effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19.

It is the only single-dose shot, which makes it more convenient, and it’s also the fastest way to become fully vaccinated since you achieve that status just two weeks after your first and only shot.

With Moderna and Pfizer, it takes two weeks after your second shot to be considered fully vaccinated.

Another benefit of the J&J vaccine: Its storage requirements are less strict. While Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines require ultra-low temperatures to stay usable, J&J can be refrigerated for up to three months at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

The newest vaccine also has fewer reported side effects than the Moderna vaccine. Just 2 percent of participants receiving the J&J vaccine recorded side effects like tiredness or fever that interfered with daily life. In contrast, that rate was higher than 15 percent for those who received their second shot of Moderna.

Alaska health officials said communities around the state are considering different ways to use the single-dose shot, which is easier to transport and store: for newly discharged hospital patients, for mass clinics or for those who work on fishing boats and may be out at sea for many weeks, among other uses.

Is it a good idea to get the J&J vaccine, followed by one of the other vaccines later on?

No. The CDC advises against receiving more than one complete coronavirus vaccination series, since no studies have been done on the safety or efficacy of multiple shots.

Will I be able to choose which vaccine I receive?

Generally, yes — when you sign up for a vaccine, you should be able to see which type of vaccine that clinic or pharmacy is offering.

How do I know if my job makes me eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Last week, Alaska opened up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to a wide-ranging group of people who joined many others — like educators, seniors and front-line medical staff — who were already allowed to get the shot.

The newly eligible Alaskans include “essential workers” as defined by the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The list really runs the gamut in terms of professions, and it’s worth checking the list to see if your job makes you eligible. People who work in mortuary services, restaurant workers, delivery food workers, farmers, workers in the energy sector, bus drivers, postal workers, clergy, weather forecasters and laundromat workers all qualify, to name just a few.

The entire list in PDF form is viewable here.

I got my vaccine but I don’t feel well. Should I be worried?

The short answer is no. It’s not unusual or worrisome to experience some side effects or feel somewhat ill after receiving the vaccine. The side effects mean the vaccine is working and “a sign the immune system is kicking into gear, as intended. They’re a feature and not a bug, to borrow the language of computer programmers,” The Washington Post reported last year.

Health officials continue to note that side effects are normal after receiving the vaccine. They should disappear a few days later, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A few serious but extremely rare reactions to the vaccines have occurred, which is why health officials want those recently vaccinated to wait nearby 15 or 30 minutes after receiving it.

Some of the most common side effects on the arm where the shot was administered include pain, redness and swelling. The CDC recommends exercising that arm and applying a clean, cool washcloth over the area.

Also, side effects throughout the rest of the body can include tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea. The CDC recommends talking with a health care provider about potentially taking an over-the-counter medicine like ibuprofen to alleviate some of the side effects.


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