By Grace Arnn
The emergence of the Omnicron variant and the new wave of COVID-19 cases have piqued citizens’ interest in vaccinations and booster shots, particularly people who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“The data did show that the Janssen vaccine, or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine as most people refer to it, is not as effective,” said Dr. Christopher Cooper, the Director of Operations for Heartland Pharmacies.
The University of Arkansas provided students with free vaccines at the onset of the vaccine rollout last spring. However, the university mostly provided students with the Janssen vaccine, which is attractive since it is a one-shot vaccine as opposed to the two shots required by Pfizer and Moderna.
Sophia Ultes, a sophomore, and Audra Maxwell, who recently graduated, both received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine through Pat Walker Health Center at the University of Arkansas last spring. Ultes recently received the Moderna booster shot.
“I wanted to get the booster because I had the Johnson and Johnson, so I didn’t know how effective that was going to be after such a long time period,” Ultes said.
Dr. Cooper said for people initially vaccinated with Janssen, a booster shot will make a significant improvement in their immune system.
“Where we really see improvement is with a second dose or when it comes to your immune system, that reintroduction,” Dr. Cooper said. “The first vaccine doses just provide initial protection, but reintroducing that into your immune system for a second time increases your immune response.”
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine concerned Maxwell, too, but she struggled to get time off of work to get a booster shot. She recently recovered from COVID-19 for the second time. Her first infection occurred months before vaccines were available, she said. Maxwell contracted the virus a second time even though she had been vaccinated, and she still had symptoms.
“I had a fever,” Maxwell said. “I did lose my taste and smell, but that was more towards the middle of my quarantine.” Her symptoms were not serious enough to require hospitalization, she said.
Vaccines are not completely infallible, and instead are designed to prevent people from severe illness or death, Dr. Cooper said.
“The goal with a vaccine and with this pandemic is to minimize hospitalizations and Covid-19 related deaths,” Dr. Cooper said. “There is a small chance that individuals may become infected after receiving either a two-dose regimen of a vaccine or even after receiving their booster…But the severity of that infection should be greatly diminished.”
“Your likelihood of having to be hospitalized is greatly decreased, and your likelihood of mortality is also significantly decreased,” he added.
Dr. Anthony Fauci announced the Omnicron variant of COVID-19 arrived in the United States this week via someone traveling from South Africa to Florida. The person was vaccinated but did not have a booster. The Omnicron variant contains mutations that could make the virus more transmissible. That risk highlights the importance of vaccinations and booster shots, Dr. Fauci said.
Third doses, or booster shots, are now available for individuals 18 and older in Arkansas if six months have passed since receiving a second mRNA vaccine dose or two months have passed since receiving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Cooper said.