A Quick Breakdown of the 3 Different COVID Vaccines

A Quick Breakdown of the 3 Different COVID Vaccines

March 01, 2021

Updated: 5/31/2022

There are three COVID-19 vaccines available, each vaccine is a little different, but they all have the same goal of protecting you from severe illness as a result of 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

Here’s how the three vaccines compare:

  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, and have received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the United States. It is recommended that you receive one of these brands for your vaccine or booster
  • The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a viral vector vaccine, and as of May 5, 2022 the FDA limited the authorized use of this vaccine
  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires one dose
  • 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

On May 5, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limited the authorized use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine to those 18 and older who:

  • Are allergic to an ingredient within the mRNA vaccines, or had a severe reaction after their first dose,
  • Don't have access to the other approved COVID-19 vaccines, or
  • Who elect to receive the J&J brand and would otherwise not be vaccinated.

The FDA released this recommendation due to the risk of a rare blood clotting syndrome, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). The CDC notes that the risk of TTS occurs at a rate of about 3.83 cases per million doses administered.

Determining What’s Right for You

“I really believe that people should not get caught up in one brand of vaccine versus the other, these vaccines provide protection against severe COVID-19 illness and death. That’s the most important thing,” 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

  • Hackensack Meridian Health has appointments available for Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. Sign up today to get your appointment within 24 hours.
  • To make an appointment with a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website

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.

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