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Is Johnson & Johnson's COVID Vaccine Actually Better Than Pfizer's and Moderna's Vaccines?

By Keith Speights and Brian Orelli, PhD - Mar 13, 2021 at 6:08AM

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Don't jump to any conclusions based on the different vaccines' advisory committee votes.

Is Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ 1.75%) COVID-19 vaccine actually better than Pfizer's (PFE 3.59%) and Moderna's (MRNA -4.97%) vaccines? You might think so if you only looked at the vote counts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee for the three vaccines. In this Motley Fool Live video recorded on March 3, 2021, however, contributors Keith Speights and Brian Orelli address why you shouldn't read too much into J&J receiving stronger support from the advisory committee than its rival vaccines did.

Keith Speights: The big news from last week over the weekend, of course, was that the FDA gave that long-awaited, and I think much-anticipated emergency use authorization to Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. You and I have talked about this already, but there's another twist to this so I thought we could get into a little bit.

The FDA Advisory Committee has convened three times now, to review submissions for COVID-19 vaccines in the US. If you go back to December, I think it was December. Wow, time has flown. But the committee looked at the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine and they voted 17 in favor of giving it emergency use authorization, four against, and one person abstained. Then not too long after that, the committee reviewed Moderna's vaccine and it was unanimous 20 to 0, but one person abstained in that case.

But in Johnson & Johnson's case last week, the Advisory Committee voted 22 to nothing with no abstention. There wasn't any kind of dissent whatsoever. So I'm curious, in your opinion, should investors read anything into this about Johnson & Johnson's vaccine having stronger support from the Advisory Committee than the vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna?

Brian Orelli: It may be that the Advisory Committee is just getting more comfortable with COVID-19 vaccines. There were no problems with the rollouts in terms of efficacy or safety for Pfizer and Moderna's so I think that that may be the reason why Johnson & Johnson didn't have any abstentions or no votes.

The no votes for Pfizer and BioNTech I think we're mostly due to that big age difference. Pfizer and the FDA wanted 16 and older, and some of the Advisory Committee members thought that maybe they should go, they start at 18. So I think that was the no votes were basically on that difference between 16 versus 18. I didn't hear the reason for the one abstention on the Moderna was.

Speights: If I recall correctly on that one, it was just that the committee member didn't think the EUA process was the right way to go. I think that person thought that there was a better way to move forward. Obviously, they've changed their mind.

Orelli: Well, yeah, or it could be a different day. The committee members rotate in and out so it's quite possible that the person who had the abstention on the Moderna's wasn't actually sitting on the Johnson & Johnson.

Speights: Yeah, I haven't gone and compared the roster against the previous.

Orelli: It's a group of outside experts but it's much larger than that 22. They can come in and out depending on their availability so it's possible that that person didn't sit on the Johnson & Johnson one.

Speights: But the difference in the votes doesn't necessarily mean one vaccine is better or worse than the other, right?

Orelli: No. I would argue Johnson & Johnson is the worst of the three, just from an efficacy standpoint, and of course, there's some issues with them having to deal with more variance than Pfizer or Moderna did. But regardless, I would say that Johnson & Johnson is probably still the worst of the three, even taking that into account, and so I would say that I think it's more just the committee has become very comfortable with issuing emergency use authorizations for coronavirus vaccines.

Speights: Yeah. I think it certainly helped Johnson & Johnson that there's been at least relative success with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine so far.

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Stocks Mentioned

Johnson & Johnson Stock Quote
Johnson & Johnson
$176.98 (1.75%) $3.04
Pfizer Inc. Stock Quote
Pfizer Inc.
$52.47 (3.59%) $1.82
Moderna, Inc. Stock Quote
Moderna, Inc.
$136.25 (-4.97%) $-7.13

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