SA is the first country to roll out Johnson & Johnson vaccine - what you need to know about the jab

Business Insider SA
  • On Wednesday, South Africa became the first country in the world to roll out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
  • The vaccine has so far proved to be 100% effective in preventing death and hospitalisation due to Covid-19 - also in its South African trial.
  • It has other benefits, including that it doesn't require a deep freeze and or more than one jab.
  • For more articles, go to

On Wednesday, South Africa's vaccine programme will be launched with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

South Africa is the first country in the world to officially roll out the vaccine, which must still be approved by the regulators in the US, EU and others. 

How effective is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? 

Unlike the AstraZeneca vaccines, which South Africa first procured, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has proved that it can work against South Africa's 501Y.V2 variant.

While AstraAzeneca's vaccine did not show protection against mild nor moderate Covid-19 cases, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine offers 57% protection against moderate to severe Covid-19 infections in South Africa. Given that the new local 501Y.V2 variant dominates nearly all local Covid cases, this means it is effective against the new variant.

The level of protection against moderate to severe infection was 72% in the US and 66% in Latin America.

Importantly, the vaccine is 100% effective in preventing such severe Covid that the patient would end up hospitalised or dead. This was also the case in its South Africa trial. 

How does it work? 

The vaccine is delivered by a harmless virus called Adenovirus 26, a human virus uncommon in nature so most people have not developed immunity to it, reports USA Today.

The virus is really good at invading human cells, but has been modified not to replicate itself. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses the modified version of the virus to carry a gene from the coronavirus into the human cells. It then produces coronavirus proteins in the cells – but not the virus itself. This should help prime your immune system to attack the coronavirus when it enters your body, the New York Times reports

Other vaccines – like the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – don’t use modified viruses, but rather molecules of synthetic RNA.

Using the same adenovirus, Johnson & Johnson recently developed an Ebola immunisation, which was approved by the European Union last year.

The vaccine only requires one dose

Unlike some of the other vaccines, which require two doses a few weeks apart, there's only one dose of the J&J vaccine – which excites SA experts.

“A single dose is a big advantage for us, rather than having to get two doses,”  professor Salim Abdool Karim, who serves as the chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, recently told Business Insider.

“If you have a single dose, you need half the medical care infrastructure. If we choose a vaccine that is two doses, that will double the cost [because] we’ve got to buy twice as many vaccines.”

It doesn’t demand a deep freeze - and it keeps for much longer

Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines, which require low temperature freezers, J&J's vaccine only need regular refrigeration.

And while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines can only be stored in a fridge for thirty and five days, respectively, before they have to be used - the Johnson & Johnson vaccines will keep for three months.

It should be cheaper than some other vaccines

Also, it should be much cheaper. In a deal with the US government, Johnson & Johnson priced its vaccine at about $10 (R150) per dose – much lower than the Pfizer ($19 per dose) and Moderna ($25 to $37 per dose) vaccines, Forbes reported

South Africa paid $5.25 per dose for the AstraZeneca vaccines, AFP reported

How long it takes for protection to kick in

Some protection from infection begins as early as 14 days after the shot, with full protection measured 28 days after the jab. That protection may get even better as time goes on, though, as zero Covid-19 cases were reported in patients who'd been vaccinated for 49 days or more.

It was trialled in South Africa

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials included more than 43,000 volunteers across eight countries: the US, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa. 

It will be packaged in Port Elizabeth

As many as 300 million doses of a proposed new Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine could be packaged in a Port Elizabeth factory, from as early as March. 

The US company announced a preliminary partnership with local drugmaker Aspen in November. The local company will manage the formulation, filling and secondary packaging of the vaccine and supply it to Johnson & Johnson.

If the vaccine is approved, and an agreement between the two companies is concluded, Aspen could start manufacturing the vaccine in the second quarter of 2021, Aspen’s deputy CEO, Gus Attridge told Business Insider South Africa. 

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