Written by: Esha Kataria ’24
Edited by: Raymond Del Vecchio ’24
On February 27, the FDA approved a third vaccine for COVID-19, a single-shot dose by Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The J&J vaccine has its differences from the Modern and Pfizer vaccines, both biologically and logistically. This article will explore those differences while maintaining that no one vaccine is better than the other; they all provide the same protection and thus, we must not discriminate between them.
The mechanisms behind the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are different from the J&J vaccine. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use messenger RNA, single-stranded genetic material used in the synthesis of proteins, to fight the virus. This genetic material gets taken up by cells in the injection site, which use the RNA to make tiny pieces that resemble the coronavirus. These proteins stimulate an immune response by generating antibodies, proteins that detect harmful substances, and immune cells that are ready to attack upon infection. On the other hand, the J&J vaccine uses viral vector technology. A common cold virus called adenovirus 26 is genetically engineered and used to infect cells without spreading/replicating throughout the body. Instead, this virus carries genetic information in the form of DNA to arm cells, which are instructed to make pieces of the coronavirus spike protein, or what the coronavirus uses to connect to cells. By making this spike protein, the vaccine triggers an immune response in the cells so the immune system can react more strongly to the spike proteins in the future. This protects us from getting sick from COVID-19.
Another way J&J vaccine differs from Moderna and Pfizer is that the former requires one dose, while the latter two require two doses. This means that the J&J vaccine provides ample protection with just one shot, making it logistically easier to distribute and supply, allowing for quicker protection against COVID-19. Further, it doesn’t require an abnormally low temperature to be shipped and stored. While the Pfizer vaccine must be stored and shipped at between -80ºC to -60ºC, and the Moderna vaccine requires a temperature of -20ºC, the J&J vaccine can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for up to three months, makings it much easier to store and ship.
Finally, the J&J vaccine was 66% effective against moderate to severe illness, and 85% effective against severe disease, while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines showed efficacy rates closer to 94% and 95%. This is because the J&J study took place in a different place and time; testing vaccines in different locations and during different stages of the pandemic has affected the efficacy results as mutations to the virus have given rise to more contagious variants unique to location. The J&J vaccine was tested in 44,000 people in the US, South Africa and Latin America, and took place during the later months of the pandemic. In contrast, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines tested in the spring and summer of 2020. Pfizer's vaccine was tested in 43,000 people in the US, Germany, Argentina, South Africa, Turkey, and Brazil. Moderna's vaccine was tested in 30,000 people, all of whom were in the US. The J&J vaccine was tested when some of the variants of COVID-19 started to circulate, such as the South African variant. Interestingly, the vaccine’s efficacy in South Africa where the variant was dominant was 57%, whereas in the US where the variant wasn’t circulating, it was 72%. This explains why the J&J vaccine showed lower overall efficacy. This might make it seem that J&J is a second-class vaccine or a worse option than the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. But experts say this is simply not true. UCSF Epidemiologist Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo said that “When we look at the thing we probably care about the most, making sure that we don’t end up in the ICU or dying, the efficacy of the three vaccines is virtually identical.” Moreover, infectious disease expert Cassandra Pier said that if given the option to choose between the three vaccines she “would choose any of the three, because I know they will work, they will protect me and my family.”
It is clear that while the J&J vaccine is different from the other two, it is still highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and 100% effective at preventing death. Thus, NPR host Maria Godoy concludes that “the best vaccine is the one you are offered first because that’s the one that’s going to protect you the soonest.” Finally, it is important to remember that vaccines prevent contraction but not transmission. While taking the vaccine makes you less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, it does not mean you can’t spread it to others. Thus, we must remain vigilant in mask-wearing and social distancing as we slowly return to normalcy through mass vaccination.
“Weekend Edition Saturday for March 6, 2021.” NPR, NPR Up First, 6 Mar. 2021, www.npr.org/programs/weekend-edition-saturday/2021/03/06/974339234/weekend-edition-saturday-for-march-6-2021.
“Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine Authorized by U.S. FDA For Emergency Use - First Single-Shot Vaccine in Fight Against Global Pandemic.” Content Lab U.S., Johnson & Johnson, 2021, www.jnj.com/johnson-johnson-covid-19-vaccine-authorized-by-u-s-fda-for-emergency-usefirst-single-shot-vaccine-in-fight-against-global-pandemic.
Fox, Maggie. “How J&J's Coronavirus Vaccine Is Different from the Others.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 Mar. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/02/27/health/johnson-johnson-coronavirus-vaccine-explainer/index.html.
Corum, Jonathan, and Carl Zimmer. “How the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Works.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Dec. 2020, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/health/johnson-johnson-covid-19-vaccine.html.
Written by: Shreya Rajachandran ‘22
Edited by: Naphat Permpredanun ‘24
He was found face-down on a wooden bed, under a pile of volcanic ash during the excavations of the Collegium Augustalium in Herculaneum in the 1960s. The young man - around 20 years old - was a member of the elite class, possibly the guardian of the building he was found in. Like many bodies found in Herculaneum and Pompeii from the 79 CE explosion of Mount Vesuvius, the remains of the young man were incredibly well-preserved, allowing researchers insight into his lifestyle and status . Normally, the remains found at this site are mainly skeletal because the heat of the eruption vaporizes any tissue . However, by using a scanning electron microscope, scientist Pierpaolo Petrone and his team discovered a vitrified neural system and brain in the remains of the young man they found in the Collegium, documented in their study “Preservation of neurons in an AD 79 vitrified human brain."
Written by: Melinda Li '22
Edited by: Katiana Soenen '24
If you’ve ever felt dizzy or faint after standing up quickly, you’ve probably experienced a brief instance of orthostatic hypotension, commonly known as a “head rush”. Although the unpleasant effects of a head rush only last for a few seconds, orthostatic hypotension is a serious problem for spinal cord injury patients, many of whom are not able to maintain a stable blood pressure when switching positions (1).
Written by: Angela Yeung ‘24
Edited by: Surya Khatri ‘23 & Owen Wogmon ‘24
Shortly after turning five years old, Mia Gonzalez—with her sweet smile and large expressive eyes—faced a grim diagnosis: double aortic arch, a deadly congenital heart deformation that restricts airflow, causing phases of choking and shortness of breath . To prepare for the surgery, Mia’s surgical team made the unprecedented decision to center their operation around a 3D-printed model of her heart. This plan involved imaging Mia’s heart with CT imaging, uploading that data into the Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 Multi-Material 3D Printer, then producing a life-size model of the heart down to the smallest detail, including her “very complex aortic arch vessels.”  Through this, the surgical team was not only able to drastically reduce operation time but also achieve the highest level of preparation—they were able to fully visualize the path of surgery using the 3D printed model. Mia quickly recovered and returned to a happy and healthy life two months post-operation.
Written by: El Hebert '24
Edited by: Ashley Nee '22
Ralph Milliken, Ph.D., is one of many Brown community members involved with NASA - his work pinpointed a landing site for the Curiosity rover. Now, new discoveries continue to unfold as our university collaborates with space programs on an international - and interplanetary - scale.
Written by: Esha Kataria ’24
Edited by: Raymond Del Vecchio ’24 & Alyscia Batista ’23
Unusual bruising, blurry vision, dizziness, dry mouth, weight gain, diarrhea, constipation, depression, death. We have all seen those obnoxiously long drug commercials droning on and on about possible side effects to the medication. This list can often seem daunting and counterintuitive—if we are taking something that is supposed to heal us, why could it harm us? This is a general pattern among many pharmaceuticals; they are supposed to relieve illness, yet, can make us sicker than we are via undesired side effects. Why do they happen in the first place and how come they vary so widely?
Written by: Devin Juros ‘23
Edited by: Pradyut Sekhsaria ‘24
On the journey toward better understanding human cognition, research has focused on how humans today evolved to have the brain and mental faculties that separate us from other related species. Toward this goal, researchers are investigating differences in neurodevelopmental genes between current humans and our extinct evolutionary relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisovans. However, without being able to recreate these Neanderthal-esque genetic changes in living humans, it has been difficult to discern which genes are most important for our diverging cognitive abilities. But, perhaps now there is a way to get this information; not by mutating living humans but by mutating mini-brains grown in a dish. This cluster of cells functionally resembling the human brain could elicit a paradigm shift in our approach to understanding the evolution of various organs in different species.
Written by: Brett Starr '23
Edited by: Kaitlyn Mundy '23 & Jasmine Shum '24
Even in today’s world, as science evolves faster than ever, the thought of functional robotic arms can seem utterly science-fictional. However, here in Providence, these things are closer to reality than you would think. BrainGate, a research effort pioneered by Brown professors, has labored tirelessly for the past decade to build what is effectively mind-controlled technology using brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. Led by engineering professor Leigh Hochberg, the organization works with people who have lost control of their limbs, and their technology reads signals from the cortices of their brains and translates them into real-life actions, whether it be a mouse on a computer screen or--you guessed it!—a robotic arm.
Written by: Angela Yeung ‘24
Edited by: Owen Wogmon ‘23, Surya Khatri ‘24
On May 26th, 2004, David Pierce was wheeled into surgery after a tumultuous, decade-long struggle. A retired machinist who served as a volunteer firefighter, dog rescuer, and ambulance driver, David suffered a heart attack at age 41, and was later diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Thanks to the ingenious medical device known as the left ventricular assist device (LVAD), David was able to transform into a completely “new man”— from being too weak to walk more than fifteen feet at a time, to spending time with his loved ones and mentoring other heart failure survivors. Almost 15 years post-operation, David became the longest-living patient with an LVAD , eventually using his experience to mentor and support other LVAD patients.
Written by Alexander Pralea ‘24
Edited by Angelina Cho ‘24
Boys are falling behind in the classroom. This may be surprising to many readers; after all, women comprise just 7.4% of all Fortune 500 CEOs, and more broadly make 19% less than do men in the United States  . Increasingly, however, it looks like the oft-repeated feminist slogan, “the future is female,” is being actualized, just not in the way many of its proponents had anticipated.