By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– In the weeks ahead, Colorado is going to be in a different place on COVID vaccines. This month, the state is expecting 850,000 Pfizer and Moderna doses and 400,000 Johnson & Johnson doses adding the new vaccine to an arms race with the coronavirus.

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The addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, developed by Janssen Pharmaceutical, puts another tool to work. There are differences in the design of the vaccine as well as its effectiveness, but the measurements aren’t simple.

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“It’s not apples and apples when we’re comparing across these trials,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell, chief clinical research officer for UCHealth.

The trials of the J&J vaccine and the vaccines currently in use and made by Pfizer and Moderna were different. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had trials that included people in Central and South America and South Africa.

“The efficacy can be affected by different factors in different parts of the world,” explained Dr. Campbell.

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The efficacy was rated at 66% in trials around the world, but if you limit the results to the United States it rises to 72%. But those overall efficacy rates look at symptomatic infection. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines showed about 95% in that metric. But there’s another crucial measurement in defining vaccine efficacy, which is the rate of protection against severe and critical illness. That rate with the J&J vaccine is about 85%. And there is also data about asymptomatic spread with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It came in at 74%.

There is no data on asymptomatic spread and the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at preventing it.

All are acceptable rates against SARS CoV2. Flu vaccines are often in the range of the Johnson & Johnson and lower. The concept of creating herd immunity is greatly boosted by preventing so many cases of COVID-19.

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Dr. Campbell urges people to get whatever vaccine is available as soon as possible, “I would recommend them all equally.”

It’s a different formulation than the other two vaccines, which helps its ability to be a single dose.

“What people need to know is that this is not a live virus. It’s not even a dead virus, it’s just part of a virus. It’s a skeleton of a virus that’s used for carrying the information that’s used for making the SARS CoV2 spike protein to our cells. It’s just a delivery vehicle.”

As a reworked adenovirus, it does not need freezing like the other two vaccines, only refrigeration. The adenovirus is typically behind cold-like symptoms or eye infections, but the vaccine is composed of viral particles, not the entire virus. That is enough to signal the body to begin the process of making the antibodies needed to attack the spike proteins used by SARS CoV2 to attach to cells.

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The lack of a need of freezing means it can be distributed to rural areas and in smaller deliveries to underserved communities still falling behind in vaccinations. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is trying to figure out how best to get vaccines to underserved communities.

In a statement, the CDPHE replied, “The pandemic has further exploited society’s long-formed inequities, and in response to that fact,  we are determined to get the vaccine to disproportionately impacted populations.”

This vaccine may help, explained Dr. Campbell, but allowing a single dose, it may be used for homeless populations as it does not require the second dose and finding people could be difficult. And with its additional testing in South Africa and in Central and South America he notes it points to safety and effectiveness with typically underserved populations in the U.S., but all three vaccines have been tested on a diverse population.

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“So there are these myths out there that we don’t know if the vaccines work in African Americans and Hispanics, but the fact is that we do know that these vaccines work well.”

Alan Gionet