Q&A on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine with Mona Chitre, PharmD, Chief Pharmacy Officer and Vice President of Clinical Strategy and Innovation at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

Posted on March 9, 2021

Dr. Chitre leads Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s pharmacy strategy and is responsible for driving affordability, innovation and operational excellence. She completed her undergraduate and graduate training at Rutgers University and her post-doctoral primary care residency at the Buffalo VA Medical Center in Buffalo, New York.

Q: Dr. Chitre, the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine is the third COVID-19 vaccine being distributed in the U.S. Is it safe? Why do we need a third vaccine option?
A: All vaccines have the same goal – to protect us. The J&J vaccine was tested thousands of times to ensure safety and is authorized for use in the U.S. It’s important that everyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine can receive it. In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, the J&J vaccine is another way to help increase protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. Since all three vaccines are safe, the best vaccine is the one you have access to.

Q: How does the J&J vaccine differ from Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech’s?
A: The J&J vaccine is a single dose which offers maximum protection quicker than Moderna’s and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines. The J&J vaccine has proven to be 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19. With all three vaccine options, no fragment of the live virus is in the vaccine so the vaccine itself cannot make you sick with COVID-19.

Q: Should we be concerned with a less effective rate?
A: No, there is no need to be concerned. The only way to accurately compare the effectiveness of these vaccines is by direct comparison in head-to-head clinical trials, which did not happen across the three vaccine options. Testing took place in different regions, at different points in time, and with varying COVID-19 occurrences. It is best not to compare the effective rates between the vaccines.

The data proves that the J&J vaccine is 85% effective against severe COVID-19 cases, and 100% effective at preventing death from COVID-19. Based on the data, the J&J vaccine is a very safe and effective option.

Q: There is mention of a booster vaccine to help protect against the COVID-19 variants. What information is known or suggested about this?

A: Scientists are currently looking into if a booster dose is needed to address variants. It is emerging science at this time, but it is still recommended that you get your vaccine as soon as it is available for you.

Q: We know that vaccines were given to high-risk groups first. The data suggests that the number of deaths in nursing homes is going down by more than 60%. Do you feel this is because of the vaccine?
A: Absolutely. Nursing home residents were among the first people to receive the vaccine. The data shows how powerful the vaccines are against the virus, which is encouraging to hear. Reports like these make me so hopeful as the vaccines continue to rollout. I’m excited for my children to be reunited with their grandparents. I’m optimistic about the future.

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