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How the Johnson & Johnson vaccine efficacy rate compares to Moderna, Pfizer

"There's been conversation around, 'Do I want Johnson & Johnson now? Or should I take Moderna or Pfizer?' Our advice is, take the quickest appointment you can get."

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is becoming more readily available, with thousands of Western New Yorkers already receiving the shot.  

However, 2 On Your Side is still fielding questions about how this vaccine holds up compared to the others. 

Medical experts say the key aspect to remember is that all of the COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths. 

"There's been conversation around, 'Do I want Johnson & Johnson now? Or should I take Moderna or Pfizer?' Our advice is, take the quickest appointment you can get," said Paul Pettit, the director of the Orleans County Health Department.

What many people seem to be hung up on are the efficacy numbers.

However, Dr. Thomas Russo, the chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo, said that information is in some ways comparing apples to oranges.

"Although the study data suggests that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may not be as good at preventing minor, trivial infections that don't result in hospitalizations, the trials were not equivalent," Dr. Russo said.

"They were done at different times, there were more variants circulating when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested, and its antibody response actually improves over time. So, I suspect that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will actually close that gap compared to the RNA vaccines and will look even better in preventing less serious infections than the initial study data." 

NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres agreed.

"People are fixated on that 72 versus 95 percent. That's not the number you should be looking at because they looked at those cases differently," he said.

"When Johnson & Johnson was doing their human trials, it was later in the pandemic, there were more variants out there, and so people were getting sicker from the disease, and they were looking at people particularly that got moderate or severe COVID. They were not looking at people that got light or mild COVID. The other vaccines looked at that." 

Torres added, "Overall Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, they all looked at one common thing, and that was how well the vaccine protected you from hospitalizations and from dying from COVID. And ... regardless of who got what vaccine in the trials, none of them were hospitalized and none of them died from COVID once they were fully vaccinated."

Dr. Russo said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine even has some advantages over the other vaccines available.

One of the most significant is that it only requires one dose, as opposed to two.

"It's important to note that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the only vaccine that we really have significant experience with the variants first described from South Africa and Brazil," Dr. Russo said, "and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 100% in efficacy for preventing hospitalizations and bad outcomes, which is quite reassuring."

Medical experts told 2 On Your Side the main takeaway is that when it comes to preventing hospitalizations and deaths, Johnson & Johnson does just as well Moderna and Pfizer. 

"All the vaccines are effective at saving lives. They reduce symptoms. They keep you out of the hospital. Ultimately keep you from dying so we encourage people to get vaccinated as soon as they can," Pettit said.