Johnson & Johnson: what you need to know about COVID-19 viral vector shots

SILVER SPRING, MARYLAND — The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Johnson & Johnson viral vector shot for emergency use in the United States on February 27. That means the JNJ-78436735 shot (also called Ad26.COV2.S) is authorized for use without going through formal FDA approval channels for new drugs. It is the third shot given emergency use authorization in the United States, after the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA shots.

Emergency use authorization has been used 347 times since the COVID-era began in 2020, according to Harvard Law School. The FDA issued a total of 38 emergency use authorizations for Zika, Ebola, MERS and Avian flu combined. JNJ-78436735, developed by Johnson & Johnson drug division Janssen Pharmaceuticals in Belgium, is currently in Phase III clinical trials. Studies are expected to last through 2023.

Mainstream media have centered narratives around the fact that the J&J viral vector shot requires only one dose. Both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA shots require two doses spaced out several weeks. There’s also controversy surrounding the J&J shot that mainstream media are covering. A New York Catholic diocese is telling its parishioners not to take the J&J shot because it is derived from aborted fetuses.

There is a common misconception that the J&J shots are “traditional” vaccines made from weakened virus. This is false. The experimental Covaxin (India), Sinopharm BBIBP-CorV (China), and CoronaVac (China) shots are the closest to traditional vaccines of all the widely-used ones. J&J shots are experimental viral vectors. The long-term effects on humans are still unknown as clinical trials continue. The following is a summary of viral vector shots versus mRNA shots.

What is a vaccine?

The term “vaccine” is derived from the New Latin word vacca, which means “cow.” It also has origins from the old Latin term vaccīnus, which means “of or from cows.” The term was first used to describe inoculations that prevent diseases in the late 18th century.

British physician Edward Jenner heard a rumor that milkmaids who got cowpox were subsequently immune to smallpox. Jenner posited that it’s better for people to get non-lethal, but ugly cowpox (and the remnant scars) versus deadly variola major smallpox.

Cowpox clears up within two weeks, leaving only scars.
Variola major smallpox has a 30% death rate.

He tested the hypothesis by scraping a cowpox sore on a milkmaid and injecting the material into an eight-year-old boy. The boy got cowpox and recovered within a couple weeks. Jenner then injected the boy with live smallpox virus. He never got sick. Jenner successfully tested the hypothesis on 22 other people. He published the findings in 1798, called An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae. The latter two terms literally mean “pustules of cows.”

Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1979. But the term “vaccine” lives on, whether used correctly or otherwise.