Moderna's vaccine is the most effective, but Pfizer and J&J also protect well, CDC-led study says

A head-to-head study of all three authorized coronavirus vaccines in the United States finds the Moderna vaccine is slightly more effective than Pfizer’s in real-life use in keeping people out of the hospital, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine comes in third, but still provides 71% protection.

© Algi Febri Sugita/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images DUSUN BAMBU, WEST BANDUNG REGENCY, INDONESIA – 2021/09/15: Vials and a box of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine seen in Lembang Tourism area. The West Bandung Regency Government collaborating with tourism managers held a mass COVID-19 vaccination in Lembang Tourism area to attract public interest in vaccinations. (Photo by Algi Febri Sugita/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Pfizer’s vaccine provided 88% protection against hospitalization, and Moderna’s was 93% effective.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led a nationwide study of vaccination involving more than 3,600 adults hospitalized for Covid-19 between March and August.

“Among U.S. adults without immunocompromising conditions, vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 hospitalization during March 11- August 15, 2021, was higher for the Moderna vaccine (93%) than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (88%) and the Janssen vaccine (71%),” the team wrote in the CDC’s weekly report on death and disease, the MMWR.

“Although these real-world data suggest some variation in levels of protection by vaccine, all FDA-approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide substantial protection against COVID-19 hospitalization.”

They found that the biggest difference between the vaccine made by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech’s vaccine was driven by a decline that started about four months after people were fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s vaccine.

“Differences in vaccine effectiveness between the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine might be due to higher mRNA content in the Moderna vaccine, differences in timing between doses (3 weeks for Pfizer-BioNTech versus 4 weeks for Moderna), or possible differences between groups that received each vaccine that were not accounted for in the analysis,” the team wrote.

“Vaccine effectiveness for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 91% at 14 -120 days after receipt of the second vaccine dose but declined significantly to 77% at more than 120 days,” the team wrote.

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines both use genetic material called messenger RNA to deliver immunity, but they use differing doses and slightly different formulations. The Janssen vaccine uses an inactivated common cold virus called adenovirus — a viral vector — to carry genetic instructions into the body.

“A single dose of the Janssen viral vector vaccine had comparatively lower anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody response and vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 hospitalizations,” the team said. “Understanding differences in vaccine effectiveness by vaccine product can guide individual choices and policy recommendations regarding vaccine boosters. All FDA-approved or authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide substantial protection against COVID-19 hospitalization.”

CDC worked with researchers across the country to study 3,689 patients at 21 hospitals in 18 states for the study. They also looked at antibodies in the blood of 100 healthy volunteers after they had been vaccinated with one of the three available vaccines.

“These real-world data suggest that the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine regimens provide more protection than does the one-dose Janssen viral vector vaccine regimen. Although the Janssen vaccine had lower observed vaccine effectiveness, one dose of Janssen vaccine still reduced risk for COVID-19-associated hospitalization by 71%,” they wrote.

The study had limitations. “This analysis did not consider children, immunocompromised adults, or vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 that did not result in hospitalization,” the team wrote. Plus, the volunteers were only followed for 29 weeks — just over six months.

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