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Everything You Need to Know about COVID-19 Vaccines

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines was much-anticipated as the number of new cases and deaths kept rising in the United States and across the globe. Today the immunization process is going strong, which is why it’s important to learn as much as possible about the approved vaccines, how they work, and their effectiveness and potential side effects. Read on to get informed about Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Astra Zeneca, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines.

Overview of manufacturers

Pfizer-BioNTech

Pfizer is a well-known American pharmaceutical giant founded in 1849. Headquartered in Manhattan, Pfizer develops medications and vaccines for a wide range of medical conditions and fields ranging from oncology to immunology.

BioNTech, on the other hand, is a German biotechnology company founded in 2008. The Mainz-based company combines groundbreaking research with cutting-edge technology to develop therapeutics.

Moderna

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Moderna was founded in September 2010. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology company focuses primarily on drug discovery and development and mRNA-based vaccine technologies. Their pipeline includes 24 development programs, 13 of which entered clinical studies.

Johnson & Johnson (Janssen)

Breaking: Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been paused over rare blood clots since this week.

Johnson & Johnson, founded in 1886, develops pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and consumer packaged goods. As one of the most well-known American companies, Johnson & Johnson has become the world’s largest and most broadly-based healthcare company focused on creating healthier communities. Janssen is a Belgium-based pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson.

AstraZeneca

Founded in April 1999, AstraZeneca is a British-Swedish biotechnology and pharmaceutical company headquartered in Cambridge, England. Their pipeline includes 174 projects. In April 2020, AstraZeneca announced a collaboration with Oxford focused on the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccines overview

There are different types of COVID-19 vaccines in terms of mechanism of action. These four vaccines belong to two categories: mRNA and viral vector (adenovirus) vaccines. Below, you can learn more about each vaccine and how it works.

Pfizer

Pfizer and BioNTech’s BNT162b2 vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) type of vaccine. Messenger RNA is a genetic material the cells in the body read to make proteins. The vaccine relies on genetically engineered mRNA to give cells instructions on how to produce a harmless segment of S protein found on the COVID-19 virus surface. Once a person is vaccinated, the immune system starts making the pieces of S proteins that emerge on the surfaces of the cells. 

As a result, the immune system creates antibodies. Therefore, if a person gets infected with the virus, the antibodies will strive to protect them. Upon production of S protein fragments, the mRNA breaks down immediately. In fact, mRNA never reaches the nucleus of a cell where your DNA is stored. The vaccine is administered in two doses given 21 days apart. Each vaccine vial contains 5 doses of 0.3 milliliters.

When was the vaccine issued?

On November 20, 2020, Pfizer requested an emergency use authorization from the FDA. On December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Agency granted Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine their request. Vaccination in the U.S. started on December 14. The first Western country that approved this vaccine was Great Britain on December 2, but seven days later (on December 9, 2020), Canada did the same. The vaccine was authorized in the European Union on December 21, 2020.

How many people have received the vaccine?

The latest data shows at least 67,56 million doses have been administered so far in the United States. Keep in mind these numbers keep changing by the day as more and more people get vaccinated.

How effective is the vaccine?

According to the latest real-world evidence, two weeks after the second vaccine dose, protection by Pfizer-BioNTech is strong, with 97% effectiveness. In other words, this vaccine has 97% effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, severe and critical hospitalizations, and death. Additionally, the effectiveness of this vaccine is 94% against asymptomatic cases. One of the earlier reports, a trial involving 43,548 participants, reported two doses of this vaccine conferred 95% protection against COVID-19.

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Some people may experience temporary and mild side effects after vaccination with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. These adverse reactions tend to last a few days only and include:

  • Tiredness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Pain and swelling around the injection site

Keep in mind these side effects are normal and, actually, indicate the vaccine is doing its job in “activating” the immune system.More serious side effects are uncommon. They may include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Nausea

It’s useful to mention adverse reactions are more common after the second dose rather than the first.

Who should and shouldn’t get vaccinated with this vaccine?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is suitable for persons aged 16 and older. Most adults are eligible for this vaccine. However, you shouldn’t get this vaccine if any of these apply to you:

  • History of an allergic reaction to any ingredient in mRNA vaccine
  • Suffering from an allergic reaction after the first dose of this vaccine

The vaccine is meant to work for persons with underlying, chronic conditions. But, if you have concerns, you may benefit from consulting your doctor.

Moderna

Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine works just like Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine. Basically, it’s an mRNA-based vaccine that does not contain the live virus but aims to produce antibodies by inducing the immune system’s reaction to a specific protein (S protein)

The vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart. Each vaccine vial contains 10 doses of 0.5 milliliters.

When was the vaccine issued?

The FDA approved Moderna’s vaccine on December 18, 2020. Canada authorized this vaccine on December 23, 2020, and European Union on January 6, 2021.

How many people have received the vaccine?

At least 62,88 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been administered to Americans. These numbers change every day as the immunization process keeps moving forward.

How effective is the vaccine?

The vaccine has been shown to have an effectiveness of 92% in protecting against COVID-19, starting two weeks after the first dose. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed Moderna vaccine had the effectiveness of 94.1% at preventing COVID-19 illness.

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Common side effects in the injection site may include pain, redness, and swelling. Adverse reactions throughout the body include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness

Most side effects are mild to moderate. The risk of severe side effects is low, and they may include allergic reactions.

Who should and shouldn’t get vaccinated with this vaccine?

Moderna’s vaccine is suitable for persons aged 18 years and older. Almost everyone should get this vaccine. The vaccine shouldn’t be administered to persons who had a severe allergic reaction to the first dose of the vaccine and men and women who are allergic to the ingredients of this vaccine. Pregnant and breastfeeding women may want to consult their healthcare provider first.

Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ-78436735 vaccine is different than Moderna and Pfizer’s. This is a viral vector vaccine. Essentially, the viral vector (or adenovirus) vaccine contains genetic material from the COVID-19 virus. The genetic material was inserted into a different kind of live virus, known as adenovirus. Here, a viral vector or adenovirus acts as a delivery system. Upon entering the cells, the viral vector delivers the COVID-19 virus’s genetic material. When that happens, the virus gives instructions to those cells to produce S protein. Just like with mRNA vaccines, fragments of S proteins appear on the surface of the cells, thus activating the production of antibodies. The vaccine can’t infect you, and genetic material doesn’t reach your DNA.

Janssen is a single-dose vaccine. One vial of this vaccine contains five doses of 0.5ml.

When was the vaccine issued?

On February 27, 2021, FDA issued emergency use authorization for the Janssen vaccine. Approval in Canada for this vaccine was received on March 5, 2021, and European Union authorized it on March 11, 2021.

How many people have received the vaccine?

About 2.73 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been administered so far in the United States.

How effective is the vaccine?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine showed an effectiveness of 85% in preventing severe COVID-19 that doesn’t require hospitalization. The effectiveness in the U.S. was 72%, and overall efficacy across all studied geographical areas in their trial was 66%.

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Common side effects of the Janssen vaccine are the same as those of Pfizer and Moderna. While severe adverse reactions are unlikely, some people may experience an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction occurs within a few minutes up to an hour after vaccination. Your healthcare provider may ask you to stay at a vaccination place for monitoring.

Who should and shouldn’t get vaccinated with this vaccine?

Johnson & Johnson vaccine is meant for persons who are at least 18 years old. Generally speaking, the vaccine is suitable for most people. Those who shouldn’t get the vaccine are persons who are allergic to any of the ingredients contained in the formula.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca and Oxford’s AZD1222 vaccine belongs to the viral vector category, just like Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. As mentioned above, these vaccines contain genetic material from the COVID-19 virus and a delivery system in the form of adenovirus or a viral vector.

Unlike Johnson & Johnson, the AstraZeneca vaccine is not a single-dose vaccine. Two shots are necessary for intervals of eight to 12 weeks. Each vial contains eight to 10 doses of 0.5ml.

When was the vaccine issued?

AstraZeneca was first approved in the U.K. on December 30, 2020. The approval of this vaccine in the E.U. arrived on January 29, 2021, and Canada authorized it on February 26. At the moment of writing this article, the AstraZeneca vaccine wasn’t approved in the U.S. The approval is expected to happen in the coming days or weeks.

How many people have received the vaccine?

AstraZeneca vaccine is not distributed in the U.S. just yet.

How effective is the vaccine?

The interim trial among adults in the United States, Chile, and Peru showed an effectiveness of 79%. 

Does the vaccine have side effects?

The side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine are similar to what you might experience with other vaccines. In most cases, the adverse reactions range from mild to moderate. They generally include pain at the injection site, body chills, tiredness, and fever.

Who should and shouldn’t get vaccinated with this vaccine?

People aged 18 years or older can get the AstraZeneca vaccine. You shouldn’t get the vaccine if you had an allergic reaction to a previous dose or you are allergic to any component of this vaccine.

Where to learn about vaccines?

Sources of reliable information about vaccines include:

CVDVACCINE.com – https://www.cvdvaccine.com/

CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/index.html

HHS.gov – https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccines/index.html

Conclusion

The main focus of this post was on vaccines against COVID-19. These vaccines belong to mRNA and viral vector categories and have a high effectiveness rate. Consult your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or if you are concerned about your medical condition.

References

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