A breakdown of the COVID-19 vaccines.

There has been a ridiculous amount of controversy surrounding the COVID-19 vaccinations and what they do to your body. Our goal here is to lay out as much information to support you in making an informed decision about whether or not to take the vaccine.

If you do choose it, you can see which one you might want to take. If you’re not content to wait until the long-term safety data is released in 2023, here is all we currently know about the effectiveness of the vaccines. 

Pfizer/BioNTech

Effectiveness: 78 percent (After 90 Days)

Type of vaccine: mRNA***

No. of Shots: Two

***mRNA stands for messenger RNA.

This vaccine functions by sending a message into our cells that instructs our body to make a version of the spike protein that is associated with COVID-19. Your immune system is then triggered, and antibodies are manufactured that will counter the spike protein. This teaches our immune system how to react to COVID, without having the need for a traditional vaccine that may have contained a dead version of the virus.  

The Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be a little less effective against certain strains of COVID, such as the so-called “South African” variant. However, Pfizer is preparing to manufacture a new vaccine if it becomes less effective against variants over time. Although by that time, if herd immunity has been reached, there may be no point.

Pfizer has claimed that the vaccine was 100 percent effective in trials on children aged 12-15, although testing this is difficult as children are far less susceptible to COVID-19 than elderly folks. However, there have been concerns about distribution. One of the issues is that it must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 degrees Celsius), causing some logistical problems. 

Waning Vaccine Effectiveness?

Dvir Aran, a biomedical data scientist at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa told Nature“We are seeing high levels of breakthrough [infections] in the population that was vaccinated early, and on the other hand, we are seeing robust protection in those vaccinated recently — especially in 12–15-year-olds.”

There have been suggestions from Israeli scientists that the Pfizer vaccine could be linked to a small number of heart inflammation cases in young men. One study identified 275 cases of myocarditis across six months among five million vaccinated people. However, they declared this to be within normal levels across the population.

Pfizer is not unfamiliar with unexpected side-effects of their products. In 1996, an outbreak of measles, cholera, and bacterial meningitis occurred in Nigeria. Pfizer representatives and personnel from a contract research organization (CRO) traveled to Kano to set up a clinical trial and administer an experimental antibiotic, trovafloxacin, to approximately 200 children.

Local Kano officials reported that more than fifty children died in the experiment, while many others developed mental and physical deformities. The lawsuits were eventually settled out of court. Pfizer committed to paying 35 million USD “to compensate the families of children in the study,” another 30 million USD to “support healthcare initiatives in Kano”, and 10 million to cover legal costs. 

Luckily for Pfizer, in the case of COVID-19, they have been granted exemption from prosecution by the US government through the PREP Act. It “provides immunity from liability (except for willful misconduct) for claims of loss caused by, arising out of, relating to, or resulting from the administration or use of covered countermeasures to diseases, threats, and conditions identified in the declaration.”

Moderna

Effectiveness: 95 percent

Type of vaccine: mRNA

No. of Shots: Two

The Moderna vaccine is also an mRNA vaccine, which has also been found to be “slightly less effective” against the South African variant. To combat this, Moderna is now considering a 3rd booster shot to increase efficacy against new variants.

It differs from Pfizer in the fatty lipids that coat the mRNA to deliver it into the body. Dolly Parton is credited with helping fund the jab after donating one million dollars (about £716,000) to Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee, which participated in the research. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, the Moderna vaccine can be stored at just minus 4 F (minus 20 C), so they are easier to store and transport. 

Both the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine contain an ingredient called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which has raised concerns about its potential to induce an allergic reaction. However, it is still unclear whether PEG is the cause of the reported allergic reactions or whether the concentration of PEG in the vaccine is enough to cause a reaction.

Moderna has never had a vaccine approved for use by the FDA and the use of mRNA vaccines was, before 2020, considered to be highly experimental. There are particular concerns from Dr. Robert Malone, the inventor of mRNA Vaccine technology, and Dr. Bret Weinstein that the focus on the spike protein may give rise to variants of covid that evade any vaccines that are focused around the spike protein.

There is also concern that the spike protein is cytotoxic and that programming our cells in the body to produce it may be harmful, although more research is needed here. The conversation in which the two discussed has since been censored from YouTube – along with his discussion with a leading COVID clinician. 

The Moderna vaccine has been suspended for young people in a number of European countries, such as Iceland, due to fears over blood clots and myocarditis. 

Johnson & Johnson

Effectiveness: 68 percent protective against moderate to severe infections (After 28 days)

Type of vaccine: Modified Adenovirus

No. of Shots: One

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses DNA stored in a modified adenovirus–a type of cold virus that infects chimpanzees–to teach the body how to deal with the COVID-19 spike protein. Scientists genetically altered the adenovirus so it can no longer infect human cells, and then added genes that code for the coronavirus spike protein. It’s a technique that has been used to create vaccines for Ebola, HIV, and Zika. The shot can be stored for months at normal refrigerator temperatures.

Since it is a single-shot vaccine, it could be better for people who might have difficulty traveling to hospitals or mass vaccination sites (especially those who are home- or bed-bound). However, Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky has reiterated that people will likely need to receive additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccines alongside the annual flu shot for the next “several years.”

The J&J vaccine has been somewhat more controversial than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. On April 13th, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration halted the use of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (given to 6.8 million people in the U.S.).

This stoppage was due to reports of blood clotting in six people who have received the vaccine. One woman died, and another has been hospitalized in critical condition. However, this was considered to be merely a precaution and no indication that the vaccine was widely unsafe or dangerous. 

The WHO has advised that individuals with a history of anaphylaxis to any component of the vaccine should not take it. Anyone with a body temperature over 38.5ºC should also postpone vaccination until they no longer have a fever. LiveScience spoke to Dr. Peter Gulick, a professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, who told them “I would probably go with the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, at least for my patients with HIV.” 

Astra Zeneca

Effectiveness: 61 percent (After 90 Days)

Type of vaccine: Modified Adenovirus

No. of Shots: Two

Just as with the J&J vaccine above, this is based on a modified adenovirus to introduce the gene for the coronavirus spike protein to the body, and elicit an immune response. Despite some concerns from medical professionals, including John Bell, the Oxford University scientist who worked on the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the vaccine has been shown to be effective against variants. This is including the dreaded Delta variant, against which it showed a 92 percent efficacy against hospitalization

In the UK it has been advised that no one under 30 take the Astra-Zeneca due to risks of developing blood clots, although many have still been allowed to take it if they sign a form recognizing the risks. A subsequent review by the EU’s European Medicines Agency concluded that the shots don’t increase the overall incidence of blood clots, but the committee could not rule out a link to some rare clotting disorders, Live Science reported

What If Your Pregnant?

The current guidelines state that all pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine, based on their age and high-risk category. Due to the fast progression of COVID-19, there hasn’t been much time to be able to conduct studies looking into the safety and tolerability of the vaccine. However, a study has recently been launched to confirm this. Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist at Chemist Click told me, 

“Like the flu vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine is theoretically safe, and the benefits of having the vaccine are thought to outweigh the risks. The NHS recommends that pregnant women take the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, as they have been more widely used during pregnancy.”  

What Are Some Other Options?

Novavax: The Novavax vaccine uses spike proteins that have been harvested from moth cells and compiled into nanoparticles (in a similar way to how the hepatitis B vaccine functions). The nanoparticles replicate the structure of the coronavirus, but they aren’t able to infect you; they’re then injected into the muscle, along with an “immunity-priming” compound, which helps produce the desired antibodies. 

Sinopharm: China’s state-owned pharmaceutical company has developed a vaccine using dead versions of the virus. Countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, have reported that it is about 86 percent effective.

Bharat Biotech: India’s Bharat Biotech has also created a vaccine using a dead version of COVID-19 which has been granted emergency use in the country. The company claims the vaccine is at least 60 percent effective.

Gamaleya’s Sputnik V: Russia’s vaccine uses adenoviruses like the AstraZeneca vaccine to introduce the COVID-19 spike protein to the immune system. It was shown in trials to have an efficiency of 91.4 percent.

Making A Choice

The effectiveness of the vaccines will continue to be measured by scientists. To date, the one with the least problems and long efficacy seems to be Moderna. However, as with all medical treatments, there are risks to be considered. Any and all concerns should be discussed with a medical professional.

Josh Hamilton is an aspiring journalist from Belfast, Northern Ireland, living in London, Ontario. Lover of music, politics, tech and life. Editor in chief at www.TheJist.co.ukSubmit your story or essay to Buzzworthy Blogs