Three weeks after the release of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) a series of studies showing that the single-shot COVID-19 vaccine “generated strong, sustained activity against the rapidly spreading Delta variant,” a new preprint from New York University researchers suggests it may be less effective at combating the disease. new strain than suggested.
The news comes as the US enters another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven largely by the Delta coronavirus variant, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say is now more than 83 percent of cases. Still, experts say those who argue that the J&J vaccine is simple… ineffective against the Delta variant are hasty conclusions.
“It’s a little too early to say,” says Dr. Gregory Poland, co-director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. “Eighty-eight percent of US hospitalizations due to COVID are unvaccinated people. But the main thing is the reverse. Twelve percent of them are vaccinated and still hospitalized. I don’t know what vaccines they got. I don’t know if they were fully vaccinated. I don’t know if they were immunocompromised. This is the blank in the data we need to fill in to be definitive.”
Poles and others who have pushed back claims that the J&J vaccine is ineffective against the COVID-19 variants have good reason to be skeptical. The paper what this claim is based on — a paper that has not been peer-reviewed — is far from bulletproof. In the study, researchers tested the blood of 17 people who received the mRNA vaccines and 10 people who received the J&J vaccine to see which antibodies were best able to fight COVID-19 (and especially variants like Delta). to fight.
The mRNA vaccines like Moderna and Pfizer came out on top, but Poland says that doesn’t necessarily challenge J&J’s previous findings of strong immunity. “What we have are two reports, a J&J press release and a preprint paper,” says Polen. “Both reports concern very small numbers of people and are based on laboratory studies [tests] from which they extrapolate what the meaning of this might be in the real world.”
BioRxiv, the preprint site where the article was published, also included a disclaimer: “bioRxiv posts many COVID19-related articles. A reminder, they have not been formally peer-reviewed and should not direct health-related behaviors or be reported in the press as conclusive ‘ says the letter.
In a statement to Yahoo, a J&J spokesperson also urged caution. “While the [study] provides some insight into a single aspect of the immune response elicited by COVID-19 vaccines, the data does not speak to the full nature of immune protection,” the spokesperson wrote. “The dual mechanisms of protection against COVID-19 generated by the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, both neutralizing and non-neutralizing binding antibodies and multiple types of T cells play a collaborative role in fighting SARS COV-2.”
The authors of the NYU study could not be reached for comment at the time of publication, but shared their motivation for the study with the New York Times. “The message we wanted to give was not that people shouldn’t get the J.&J. vaccine, but we hope it will be boosted in the future with a new dose of J.&J. or a boost with Pfizer or Moderna,” Nathaniel Landau, study leader and virologist at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told the New York Times.
It’s not the first time the idea of an extra shot has been suggested. While the CDC has not made any official recommendations yet, experts have: started recommending that individuals who had received the J&J vaccine are considering getting a single dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine as a “booster” of their immunity. Although the vaccines use different mechanisms, all three train the body to recognize the spike protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, meaning there’s a good chance adding another vaccine could be beneficial.
Poland is not against boosters becoming the norm. “If I had to guess… we’ll find that if you get one dose of J&J, you need a second dose, either another J&J or an mRNA,” says Polen. “But nobody knows for sure yet.” More research is needed to determine if it is the right course of action, but a study earlier in July on mixing vaccines provided compelling evidence that it will work.
While that is an exciting prospect, Poland confirms that at this stage – as the pandemic begins to pick up again – it is the unvaccinated population that needs to draw attention. “For people who are fully vaccinated, there is almost no chance of them dying or developing a serious infection,” says Polen. In other words, right now, any vaccine is better than no vaccine at all.
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