Now that Johnson and Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine has been given an emergency use authorization (EUA), the US will see many more immunizations being given. Unlike Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, which require two doses, the new one only requires one shot and will be much easier to distribute because it only requires normal refrigeration temperatures for storage.
What makes the new vaccine different? To understand that, let’s get an overview of how each type works.
A Brief Look at Vaccines in General
All vaccines work by helping the body develop immunity to disease and infection. Basically, they introduce a perceived threat to the body to trigger an immune response, so the body learns how to fight that particular virus. The immune system will then have memory of the virus, and when it sees the same or something similar in the future, it knows how to respond immediately, before the invader can multiply and spread, causing illness.
It is important to be aware that it takes a few weeks after receiving a vaccination for the body to develop immunity, so if someone is infected when they get their shot, or even if they become infected shortly afterwards, they may get sick because the body’s immune system has not built immunity yet.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) Vaccines
COVID-19 cells have spikelike protein structures on their outsides which help them get into human cells. Most of the vaccines under development target these spikes.
Traditional vaccines work by exposing you to a virus that has been inactivated. mRNA vaccine is a newer technology that doesn’t require exposure to the virus, so it can’t give you the disease.
mRNA is a molecule found in our cells, which tells the cell how to make a particular protein. In the new vaccines, mRNA that directs the creation of the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2 virus is injected and begins instructing the cell to make the spike protein.
You don’t have to worry about the mRNA in a vaccine affecting your own DNA, though, because your DNA and RNA are inside the nucleus of your cells, but the mRNA in the vaccine can’t cross into the cell nucleus. It does its work in the cytoplasm and then is destroyed.
The vaccine is given by injecting it into the muscle in your upper arm. The production of the spike protein takes place inside muscle cells, which then have the newly produced spike cells on their outer surface.
Your immune system senses these foreign particles and perceives them as a threat to destroy. It starts making antibodies to destroy anything with that spike protein, so if the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus does get into your system, your immune system will recognize it and attack the virus before it can replicate and make you sick.
It is easier and faster to make mRNA vaccines in a lab than it is to make traditional vaccines, which is important in a situation where hundreds of millions of people need to immunized as soon as possible.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines and testing has shown that a second dose is required to get the best immunity. They have to be stored at subzero (Pfizer-BioNTech ) or below freezing (Moderna), which greatly restricts distribution.
Adenovirus Vector Vaccines
Like traditional vaccines, adenovirus vector vaccines use a whole virus, but the difference is that they use a harmless adenovirus which is the “viral vector.” A small piece of the adenovirus’s genetic instructions is replaced with genes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
The adenovirus vector vaccine is injected into the arm muscle where it enters cells. The cells read the instructions and produce spike proteins, which sit on the cells’ outer surfaces. The same immune system process then occurs as with the mRNA vaccines.
Johnson and Johnson’s pharmaceutical company, Janssen Biotech Inc., got FDA approval for distribution of their adenovirus vector vaccine for COVID-19 on February 27. They had used a method like this for their Ebola vaccine, so had previous experience with it.
The adenovirus vaccine requires only one shot and can be transported and stored at normal refrigeration temperatures, which makes widespread distribution much more feasible.
Why Effectiveness of the Vaccines Can’t Be Compared
During clinical trials in the summer of 2020, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were 95% effective at preventing serious illness from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Clinical trials for Johnson & Johnson/Janssen’s vaccine showed it to be 67% effective in preventing moderate to severe/critical COVID-19 disease.
It would appear that the latter is much less effective, but it is important to note that that study was done much later, after the variants of the virus became an issue, and that the testing was done largely in South Africa where one of the variants is widespread.
While the process of building immunity after receiving a vaccination can cause fevers, headaches, or chills, none of the COVID-19 vaccines can give you the disease. These symptoms indicate that the process is working, and your immune system is doing what it is supposed to do.
New medical processes bring new medical billing codes and when we are in an official state of emergency, things change very fast. The COVID-19 vaccines were developed, tested, and approved for use in less than a year as opposed to the usual 10-15 years it takes to get a vaccine approved for public use. If you’d like a break from trying to keep up with all the latest COVID-19 vaccines medical billing codes and requirements, give us a call at 800-640-6409 and let us fill you in on how our medical billing services can provide relief and increase your revenue.