A Quick Breakdown of the 3 Different COVID Vaccines

March 1, 2021

As of February 27, there are now three COVID-19 vaccines that have received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States. Each vaccine is a little different, but they all have the same goal of protecting you from COVID-19.

Daniel Varga, M.D., chief physician executive at Hackensack Meridian Health shares some key differences and what you should consider when getting the COVID vaccine.

How the Three Vaccines Compare

The three vaccines that have received EUA in the United States were developed by Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Here’s how the three vaccines compare:

  • All three vaccines are extremely effective against COVID-19
  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose
  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine (see below for definitions)
    • mRNA: mRNA stands for messenger ribonucleic acid and can generally be described as instructions for your body on how to make a protein or even just a piece of a protein. mRNA is not able to alter or modify a person’s genetic makeup, or DNA. The mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enter the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA are kept. Instead, COVID-19 vaccines that use mRNA work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop protection (immunity) to the disease
    • viral vector: A gene code unique to SARS-CoV-2 helps produce a spike protein and display it on the cell’s surface. Once on the surface of the cell, it causes the immune system to begin producing antibodies and activating T-cells to fight off what it thinks is an infection
  • Side effects are fairly similar, with the most common being pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache and muscle aches
  • Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for people ages 18 years and older, while the Pfizer vaccine includes those 16 and older

Determining What’s Right for You

According to Dr. Varga, you should be open to receiving any vaccine that’s available to you. “All three of the vaccines that received EUA are extremely effective against COVID-19,” he says. “They each provide protection against severe COVID-19 illness and death. That’s the most important thing.”

Some people are concerned that the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is slightly lower than Pfizer and Moderna, but experts advise the public not to worry. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House Chief Medical Advisor, shared with NBC, “If you go to a place and you have J&J, and that’s the one that’s available now, I would take it,” Fauci said. “I personally would do the same thing. I think people need to get vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”

Some Johnson & Johnson Benefits include:

  • It provides excellent protection against COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths
  • You don’t have to worry about getting a second shot
  • It doesn’t require special storage, like the Pfizer vaccine that needs to be stored in ultra-cold freezers

“Having the Johnson & Johnson vaccine available opens up so many doors and will get us closer to herd immunity, faster,” says Dr. Varga. “Between the one-dose option and the standard storage requirements, there’s increased opportunity to get the shot into the arms of more people across the globe.”

One dose means that health care providers will no longer have to coordinate a second shot with everyone, and ensure that they return at the prescribed time.

The ultra-cold freezers are also expensive, and require a dedicated space to store them. Being able to store doses in a standard refrigerator opens up the opportunity for way more vaccine distribution sites, especially within underserved communities where there’s a higher risk of severe illness.

Bottom Line – Get the Vaccine

“I really believe that people should not get caught up in one type of vaccine versus the other,” says Dr. Varga. “No matter which one you get, you should get the protection you’re looking for against this ugly virus.”

To put it into perspective, the flu vaccine varies from 40-60% effective each year. “What we have here is three extremely effective vaccines that together, will help us ultimately defeat COVID-19. I encourage everyone to get vaccinated once you’re eligible.”

Next Steps & Resources

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.