(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Academy of the Canyons

Column: How the coronavirus vaccines stack up against each other

The long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine has rolled out in the United States. U.S. President Joe Biden has recently announced that he would recommend that every eligible American citizen should get vaccinated and in states with vaccines, Americans can return to a more normal lifestyle.

The three types of vaccines that have received emergency authorization from the FDA are the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine, the Moderna Vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Vaccine.

Let’s look at how these three vaccines stack up against each other. 

As many already know, most states in the United States have been forced to quarantine and lockdown since March 2020. To give some background, the World Health Organization issued a global health emergency on Jan. 31, 2020, as the worldwide death toll from COVID-19 jumped to about 200 as human-to-human transmission quickly started to spread in many countries including the United States, Japan, Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and China.

Near the start of the next month, the US declared a public state of emergency as the CDC noted that the outbreak was moving into pandemic status before the Trump Administration declared a national emergency and shutdown.

It has been a very long time but many schools and businesses have been affected and they’ve had to change their system to adjust to the shift online. A lot of families have been affected as well, and it seems like it has been forever since we’ve lived in a normal world. Thanks to the vaccines, we may be almost reaching the point where we don’t have to keep wearing masks anymore, just like President Biden said.

Personally, I got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine a couple of weeks ago. I am 16 years old, and the Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine recommended for a person under the age of 18.

The Pfizer Vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which teaches cells how to make a protein, or even just a piece of a protein, that triggers an immune response inside our bodies in order to produce antibodies that protect the body if the real virus were to ever enter the body by using messenger RNA.

Based on the evidence from clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 95% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 for people that received two doses and had no history of contracting the illness two weeks prior.

For people that took the Pfizer Vaccine the most frequent underlying medical conditions were obesity which consisted of about 35.1% of the users, diabetes which consisted of about 8.4% of the users and pulmonary disease which consisted of about 7.8% of the users.

Last August, the Trump administration reached a deal with Moderna by agreeing to pay $1.5 billion for 100 million doses of its vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, equating to about $15 for each dose.

According to the CDC, the Moderna Vaccine is an mRNA vaccine that has two shots given 28 days apart on the muscle of the upper arm. Unlike the Pfizer Vaccine, in order to receive the Moderna Vaccine, you must be 18 years of age or older.

Based on the clinical trials, evidence suggests that the Moderna vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 for people that received two doses and had no history of contracting the illness two weeks prior.

Out of the people that took the Moderna Vaccine, about 22.3% had at least one high-risk disease, which includes lung diseases, heart diseases, obesity, diabetes, liver disease or HIV infection. About 4% of the participants had two or more high-risk conditions.

Unlike the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, the Johnson and Johnson/Janssen Vaccine only requires one shot, because it is a viral vector vaccine as opposed to an mRNA vaccine.

In clinical trials, the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine was 66.3% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 with no prior illness history around two weeks before.

For a brief time in mid-April, the FDA and CDC made a statement to halt the use of the vaccine after there were six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals after receiving the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine. All six of those cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, occurring 6 to 13 days after the vaccination.

With the pause of the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine, people have started to switch to Pfizer and Moderna. So how do these two specifically stack up against one another?

Both are mRNA vaccines requiring two doses, so if you want a viral vector vaccine, it would still probably be best to take the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine. Pfizer states that 3.8% of their clinical trial experiments experienced fatigue and 2% experienced headaches compared to Moderna who states that 9.7% of their participants felt fatigued and 4.5% got a headache.

Side effects most likely occur after the second dose than the first dose and include but are not limited to pain, redness, swelling, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

Young people and women are more likely to experience side effects than older people and men due to the facts that younger people have a more robust immune system than older people and the fact that estrogen (the primary female hormone) elevates the immune system while testosterone (the primary male hormone) respectively.

Getting side effects to the vaccine isn’t something negative, as it shows that your immune system is responding to the vaccine. However, if you do not get side effects, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It still means you are safe, and that your body didn’t react with as much of an inflammatory response. 

You might be wondering which one you should get. If you are anywhere between 16-18, you will have to get the Pfizer Vaccine. However, if you are 18 years of age or older, here’s my answer to that question: I don’t know.

The CDC says that they do not recommend one vaccine over another and that the brand doesn’t matter because all three have been authorized by the CDC. While you don’t have to get vaccinated and no one can force you at the moment, it is always best to stay safe, so get vaccinated!