Which COVID-19 vaccine did you get? This is a question that physicians and other health professionals continue to hear as vaccine rollout continues. While there are now three vaccines available that have received emergency use authorization in the United States—those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson-owned Janssen Pharmaceuticals—it is less important which one a person gets. Instead, says a leading physician expert, it is imperative that everyone simply gets vaccinated.
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“We now have three COVID-19 vaccines, and all three are safe and effective,” said Sandra Fryhofer, MD, an Atlanta general internist who serves as the AMA’s liaison to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Dr. Fryhofer also is a member of ACIP’s COVID-19 Vaccine Work Group.
Whether it is Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (J&J), “ACIP has expressed no preference for any of these three authorized vaccines,” Dr. Fryhofer said. What is preferred is to “get vaccinated as soon as you can, when it’s your turn.”
“The companies really have done a good job in trying to mirror their study to represent the real world,” she said. “Everything just happened a lot quicker than what we’re used to, which is good. Now the next thing we’ve got to do is our job and take advantage of this gift that’s been given us.”
“Vaccination has now been opened up to everyone 16 and older—it’s just a matter of signing up, showing up and coming back for a second vaccine dose if indicated,” said Dr. Fryhofer. “However, women under 50 should be made aware of the rare risk of blood clots and low platelets following Janssen COVID-19 vaccination. They should also be made aware there are other vaccines available that don’t pose this small risk.”
As the country navigates COVID-19 vaccine distribution, Dr. Fryhofer—a member of the AMA Board of Trustees—took time to discuss how to respond to patients’ questions about vaccination type.
Physicians should share which COVID-19 vaccine they received, said Dr. Fryhofer. “I was able to get two doses of a vaccine, so now I tell patients which one I got. I didn’t care which one it was. I just wanted to get a dose of a vaccine.”
But “the considerations have somewhat changed since the FDA amended Janssen’s emergency use authorization to include the warning about the rare risk of blood clots and low platelets—called TTS, or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome,” she said, adding that “women under 50 may decide to choose one of the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer or Moderna that do not carry this risk.”
It is important for physicians to tell their patients, “You have to decide if you’re going to get vaccinated,” she said. “My recommendation to you is to go for it. Take the one you can get, but read the fact sheets about the vaccine first.”
The fact sheets “review side effects to expect and also TTS symptoms to look for,” said Dr. Fryhofer, adding that it also “urges seeking medical attention if you have them. This is especially important for women under 50.”
While J&J’s Janssen vaccine has 66.3% effectiveness overall and 74.4% effectiveness in the United States, many people think that because “Moderna is 95% effective, this one can’t be as good,” she said. But “you really can’t compare them. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”
“The Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines were tested at different times, different places, different geographies,” Dr. Fryhofer said. “You can’t put them head to head because they each stand on their own.”