Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021

Vaccine news has been coming in fast. We’ve heard good news from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax in the last few days, confusing news about Astrazeneca, all happening while you can get Pfizer shots at Disneyland and Moderna at Soka University right now, right here in Orange County, California. They’re giving lots of shots, but not for me. (Sorry, Gershwin).

After spotting a friend’s FaceBook selfie from Soka on Wednesday, I concluded she got her appointment by checking the othena.com site at 5:30 AM. So I tried just after midnight on Thursday, Jan. 28, and again at 5:30 AM with no luck. But another friend sent over a YouTube video which said to use the app, not the website, and change the date from today’s date to a day or two ahead. And be persistent. If you can’t change it the first few times, keep trying. Anyway, I have plans for the weekend, so I’m going to start trying on Sunday night and if/when I succeed in getting an appointment I will be happy to share the video (and the experience) with you.

Vaccine doses given up to Jan. 30, 2021. http://www.cdc.gov

In the meantime, here’s an update on the five vaccines that are either available in the U.S. or coming soon:

  1. Pfizer-BioNTech: The FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 years of age and older under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on Dec. 11, 2020. It has 95% efficacy and requires two shots.
  2. Moderna got the EUA on Dec. 18, 2020. It’s 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19. Both Pfizer and Moderna are based on mRNA (Messenger RNA) technology and both require two shots. Both require ultra low-temperature storage which means special packaging and handling for shipping and storage, which in turn increases the cost of delivery and limits where they can be administered.
  3. Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine carries the spike protein inside a modified adenovirus. It also requires two shots. It was authorized for use in the UK and the EU, but not in the U. S. yet. Big advantage: it can be stored in ordinary refrigerators. This vaccine has been in the news for several reasons:
    1. Efficacy: In clinical trials it was 62% effective if two full doses are given, but this increases to 90% if the first shot is a half-dose. You often see 70% effective, which is an average, not a test result.
    2. Supply limitations in Europe: Astrazeneca has announced it is sending fewer doses to Europe than they expected while it ramps up production. In the meantime, the UK has already started giving one dose to as many people as possible to reduce the presence of the virus in the general population as a public health measure.
    3. Age: Germany announced that the vaccine wasn’t proven for people over 65, citing insufficient data because not enough of the clinical trial participants were over 65. On Monday, Jan. 25, Astrazeneca announced that their latest studies do show efficacy on people over 65.
  4. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has the big advantage of being tested with only one shot. It also uses an adenovirus to carry the coronavirus protein. The vaccine is 72% effective against moderate and severe COVID-19 in the U.S. It was 57% effective against the variant found in South Africa, which has now been identified in the U.S. as well. Dr. Fauci emphasizes that clinical trials show the vaccine is 85% protective against severe disease and 100% protective against hospitalization and death. Storage is a big advantage too, since it can be stored at refrigerator temperature up to 3 months, or frozen for longer storage. Bottom line: Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is priced at $10 per dose in the U.S., about half or less than half of the cost of Moderna and Pfizer’s shots, which, combined with the fact that you can give one shot and store it in the refrigerator, make it cheaper to distribute overall.
  5. Novavax reports an efficacy of 83.9 % in the UK, where over 50% of cases were the UK variant virus. 15,000 participants between the ages of 18 – 84 were in the UK clinical trial. The technology also uses an adenovirus carrier. It reports an efficacy of 60% in South Africa, where 90% of the cases were due to the South African variant. Which demonstrates, by the way, the importance of getting the world vaccinated before more variants have a chance to proliferate. Clinical trials are underway in the United States and Mexico with a goal of recruiting 30,000 participants age 18 and over.

A few take-aways for you:

  1. Don’t be overwhelmed by all the vaccine information. The important thing is to get the vaccine that’s available in your neighborhood.
  2. The clinical studies checked for symptomatic disease. Studies are still ongoing to determine whether you can still get infected and spread the virus without being sick yourself after having the vaccine. But we know it will keep you feeling well.
  3. We don’t know how long they last. Remember, testing started a few months ago. Real time results can only be studied in real time. There are prior coronavirus studies . . . but that’s a story for another day.
  4. The vaccines tested against the new strain in South Africa show less efficacy. Bad sign. Only immunity will prevent more mutations. Win this race against the mutants. Get the vaccine now.

“And I’m not throwing away my shot!” (Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda!)

Today’s Notable Headlines

“First doses of COVID vaccine given at Soka University, OC’s second mass vaccination site,” Orange County Register, Jan. 23, 2021. https://www.ocregister.com/2021/01/23/first-doses-of-covid-vaccine-given-at-soka-university-ocs-second-mass-vaccination-site/

“The Differences Between Covid Vaccines by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer, Astrazeneca,” Newsweek, Jan. 29, 2021. https://www.newsweek.com/differences-covid-vaccines-johnson-pfizer-moderna-astrazeneca-1565444

“Pfizer CEO vows to speed up vaccine development to under 100 days to combat the ‘high likelihood’ that current COVID-19 shots will become ineffective,” Business Insider, Jan. 29, 2021. https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/pfizer-ceo-vows-to-speed-up-new-vaccine-development-to-under-100-days-to-combat-the-high-likelihood-that-current-covid-19-shots-become-ineffective/ar-BB1ddwPQ

“Covid vaccines compared: What are the differences between Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax?” Independent, Jan. 29, 2021. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/novavax-covid-vaccine-how-effective-b1794964.html

“European Union Warns AstraZeneca Over Reduction In Vaccine Shipments,” NPR, Jan. 26, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/01/26/960642692/european-union-warns-astrazeneca-over-reduction-in-vaccine-shipments

“AstraZeneca denies report vaccine less effective in elderly,” Reuters, Jan. 25, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-eu-astrazeneca-ger-idUSKBN29U2D9

“Johnson & Johnson says single-dose COVID-19 vaccine will be a “game-changer,” ” CBS News, Jan. 30, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-vaccine-johnson-and-johnson-single-dose/

“Fauci says Johnson & Johnson vaccine helpful in COVID-19 fight despite lower efficacy,” The Hill, Jan. 30, 2021.

“Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 Vaccine Updates: Efficacy Figures, Production Delays,” Nasdaq, Jan. 20, 2021. https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/johnson-johnsons-covid-19-vaccine-updates%3A-efficacy-figures-production-delays-2021-01-20

Additional Sources:

Novavax site: “Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate Updates,” seen Jan. 29, 2021. https://www.novavax.com/covid-19-coronavirus-vaccine-candidate-updates

Johnson & Johnson Press Release: Jan. 29, 2021. https://www.jnj.com/media-center/press-releases

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an estraordinary world crisis.

You are on History’s Edge.

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