Europe approves the Johnson and Johnson vaccine: how it works, what side effects it has and why it can change vaccinations throughout Spain
As planned, the European Medicines Agency has just given its go-ahead to Ad26.COV2.S, to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In the coming days, the European Commission will approve the injectable and it will begin to be distributed in some countries of the Union that, after so many delays and controversies, await it with open arms. Spain, without going any further, has committed more than twenty million vaccines; that is, only with this vaccine it can immunize almost half of its population.
Precisely for this reason, and although rumors of delays have been haunting the vaccine for weeks, experts and health authorities are clear that Ad26.COV2.S, safe, effective and single-dose, can change everything: it is Europe’s “ace up its sleeve” to reach the goal of having 70% of the population vaccinated in summer.
How does it work? What side effects does it have? What can we expect from it? Here’s what we know about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
How does the vaccine work?
For months we have repeated that the traditional vaccine development process was slow and problematic. It is true and in fact in a period with the current one where international epidemics cannot surprise anyone, many researchers began working on systems that would accelerate development without compromising the safety and efficacy of vaccines. More than a decade ago, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston began working with Adenovirus 26.
Ad26 is a sufficiently known and versatile vial vector to build a rapid vaccine development system with it. He has already shown it on several occasions. The BIDMC and Johnson & Johnson teams have already developed experimental vaccines for numerous diseasesAmong which Ebola, Zika and HIV are perhaps the most famous. Therefore, in January 2020, with the pandemic out of control in China, laboratories and pharmaceuticals got to work.
The operation is very similar to that of other adenovirus-based vaccines (such as AstraZeneca or Sputnik V): the researchers use genetic engineering tools to ensure that the harmless Ad26 expresses the coronavirus’s own proteins; that is to say, “Disguise” the SARS-CoV-2 adenovirus for the immune system to identify and develop immunity to it. In late January 2021, after months of clinical trials, Johnson & Johnson announced that the vaccine was safe and effective.
But how effective?
In late January, Johnson & Johnson presented the results of Phase III of its clinical trial of more than 44,000 participants. According to these data and those of the North American FDA, the vaccine showed an efficacy of 77% effective 14 days after vaccination and 85% effective from 28 days.
When we break down the data geographically, we see that it reached an efficiency of 72% in the United States, 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa. According to the company, the lower results in Latin America and South Africa (especially in the latter) were probably due to new variants of the virus.
However, these data mainly referred to infections. If we look at how the vaccine protects against severe cases, the efficacy was 85% in all regions. The results are quite interesting for a vaccine with these characteristics (and it makes it especially interesting to vaccinate the bulk of the population). In addition, since the end of November, the company has started a clinical trial to see if the figures improve with two doses.
Aren’t numbers worse than those of the rest of the vaccines? Indeed, by reading these efficacy, anyone can conclude that the data is much worse than in other vaccines. However, we must not forget that part of these discrepancies are due to the fact that they are clinical trials carried out in different places, with different “strains” and at different epidemiological moments. They are not comparable to each other. Suffice it to remember that AstraZeneca’s results in Scotland are being much better than expected (better even than vaccines like Pfizer).
What side effects does it have?
In recent days, following the news about the side effects of AstraZeneca, interest in the adverse effects of vaccines has been piqued. According to the North American authorities, who have been working with the vaccine for a few weeks, the most common adverse reactions are: pain, redness and swelling in the arm where the vaccine was received; and tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea in the rest of the body. Most common side effects
As they explain, side effects usually appear within a day or two after getting vaccinated and, in a few cases, they can be quite annoying, but most are mild and disappear in a few days. For the rest, as with the rest of vaccines, adverse reactions are more frequent the younger the persona.
How does it affect us?
Although in recent days vaccination in Spain has reached cruising speed and record numbers are being made, The truth is that we are still far from reaching an adequate rate that allows us to reach 70% of the population in summer. It is also true that the main current stumbling block is the lack of vaccines: the health system is being quite effective when it comes to providing all the vaccines that are arriving in the country.
In this way, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is a fundamental tool because it allows the number of vaccinated to be shot without having to slow down to complete vaccination guidelines. And, as I said at the beginning of the text, Spain has at least 20 million committed. Now the question is whether the vaccines will arrive or if the pharmaceutical company will also suffer delays that delay the vaccination acceleration on which the strategy of the entire European Union depends. But that, I am afraid, that only the future (and some executive) knows.