ROCHESTER, Minnesota — The first doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday. The state received 45,200 doses this week.
Overall in clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66% effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 in its global Phase 3 trial but 72% effective in the United States.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reported about 95% effectiveness in their clinical trials. But those numbers don't tell the whole story.
"There are fairly large differences in where the trials were run, who is involved, when they were run, and the virus strains that were circulating at the time. There's also differences in the timing of when they looked at efficacy and also the definitions they used of what's severe and what's moderate COVID-19," explained Dr. Rick Kennedy, a professor of medicine and co-director of the Vaccine Research Group at Mayo Clinic. "So all of those differences make it really an apples to oranges comparison... It's dangerous to overinterpret what those numbers mean."
According to Kennedy, none of these vaccines have been compared head-to-head where those differences have been eliminated.
Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson one can be stored at regular refrigeration temperatures and only requires one dose.
"The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is much more stable, just requires refrigeration and it's one dose. So there's a fair number of advantages to that vaccine and those are being ignored in this focus on efficacy," Kennedy said.
In the trials, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was 85% effective against severe disease and no one who got the vaccine died from COVID-19.
"The truth is all three of the vaccines are good," Kennedy said.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not use mRNA technology like Moderna and Pfizer. Instead, it's a viral vector vaccine.
"The end result is the same... your cells are now producing some viral protein that your immune system recognizes. The approach to get it into the cell and then make the cell create the protein is a little different," Kennedy said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more, here, on understanding how COVID-19 vaccines work.
On Thursday, Governor Tim Walz announced a new community vaccination site opening in Eagan. The state announced it's partnering with the Minnesota Vikings to offer the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine to health care workers and the 65+ age group at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center starting this week.
Earlier this week, the Minnesota Department of Health said people could turn down the vaccine they were offered, but would then have to get back in line and wait for a different one. MDH Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said, "That's why we're saying the best vaccine is the vaccine that's in your arm and protecting you today."
Kennedy agreed, adding, "It's much better to get the vaccine that's available to you right now than wait for what you think might be a better vaccine, but there's no proof that it's a better vaccine, months from now."
He went on to say, "We should remember that, if you will, the efficacy of not getting a vaccine: 0%."
Johnson & Johnson's CEO Alex Gorsky said during a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday that the company is likely to have a COVID-19 vaccine available for children ages 18 and under by September.