Which COVID-19 vaccine should you choose? One expert weighs in

The US soon has a third COVID-19 vaccine, this one from the pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson.

An FDA review found the vaccine to be safe and effective at preventing severe disease, but it was less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at preventing milder illness.

So, should you shop around for the brand of vaccine you want?

Emory infectious disease physician Colleen Kraft does not recommend it.

With new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus increasingly gaining a foothold in the US,  Dr. Kraft says the goal right now is to vaccinate and protect people as quickly as possible.

If you want to wait until you can find a particular brand, she says, you can do it.

"But, then what you're going to need to do for yourself is make sure that you're continuing to isolate and take all those precautions, which you should continue to do after your vaccine," Dr. Kraft says.  "But, I think it prolongs the ability for the population to be vaccinated if you sort of pick and choose what you want."

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a one-shot, easy-to-store vaccine with fewer side effects than the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

The lead researcher on the early Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says it was tested in clinical trials later in the pandemic against new variants of the virus that began to complicate things. 

"We've seen other vaccines take a tremendous hit, a tremendous decrease in their protective efficacy against the original strain versus these new strains," Dr. Barouch says.  "So, it's very important for a vaccine to show clinical efficacy against the new strains of the virus that are circulating today."

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine prevented more than 80% of severe illness, even in variant hotspots like South Africa and Brazil.

Dr. Barouch says none of the trial volunteers in the group who received the vaccine were hospitalized or died.

"What really matters is preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and death," Barouch says.  "And, there, a single shot of the J & J vaccine performed very, very well."

If you're still having trouble scheduling your shots, try the website vaccinefinder.org.

The website, which has long been used to help people locate flu vaccines, is now solely focused on helping users find the COVID-19 vaccine.

Type in your zip code, and it will show you providers in your area.

It also shows which providers have the vaccine in stock and which have run out.

With high levels of coronavirus still circulating in the US, Dr. Kraft recommends getting the first vaccine you can find.

"No matter which vaccine you're going to get you are going to be protected against severe disease," Kraft says.  "That really is an important thing right now, when we think about hospitals and the population in general."

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