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Here’s what you need to know about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines

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A Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at the Allisonville Meadows Assisted Living off of Allisonville Road on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Fishers, Ind.

Shari Rudavsky
The Indianapolis Star

For many people, the burning question has been when can I get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Once they receive the green light from the state to make an appointment, the next question often becomes, which vaccine should I sign up for?

Public health officials say there’s an easy answer to that: Whichever one you can.

Rather than parsing distinctions between the three shots, experts say that the vaccine that does the best job at protecting you and others against COVID-19 is the one you get.

That said, here’s what you need to know about the three vaccines.

What vaccines are out there now?

So far the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to three different vaccines.

Pfizer’s vaccine received approval first in mid-December. About a week later, the Moderna vaccine followed in its footsteps.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved in late February.

More could be on the way. Other companies working on vaccine candidates of their own include Novavax and Sanofi in collaboration with GSK.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are both messenger RNA vaccines, the first of the kind approved. These vaccines teach our cells how to make the spike protein that the COVID-19 virus uses to help infect a person. Once the immune system notices the foreign spike protein, it starts making antibodies against it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccines help our bodies have the recipe to make COVID-19 antibodies should they face infection with it.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a little different. It delivers a harmless virus to our bodies that prods our cells to produce a spike protein, just like the one the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses to infect our bodies, according to the CDC. Once the immune system detects that protein, it starts making antibodies that will now protect us against any other spike proteins, should a person be infected with COVID-19.

Does it make a difference which vaccine you get?

For most people, the most striking difference between Johnson & Johnson and the other two approved vaccines is the number of doses required. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose vaccine.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots, given about a month apart but no more than 42 days apart.

How effective are the vaccines?

Trials showed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was more than 66% effective when it came to preventing illness in people who received it. The vaccine was even better at preventing hospitalization and death. No one in the trials who fell ill with COVID-19 was sick enough to be hospitalized.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were both more than 90% effective at preventing any symptomatic COVID-19 infections.

Typically it takes a few weeks after a person’s final dose to develop full immunity.

By comparison, the average flu shot is between 40% and 60% effective.

What approval of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could mean

What are side effects of COVID-19 vaccines?

All three vaccines have been associated with mild to moderate short-lived side effects. Between 55% to 83% of people who receive these vaccines have reported at least one side effect.

Side effects, which typically last a day or two, vary from person to person and can include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, chills or nausea shortly after being vaccinated, most often with the final dose.

Can I choose my vaccine?

Yes and no. When you make an appointment to get a vaccine, you get what the clinic gives and most clinics do not offer a menu of vaccines.

However, you can choose your vaccination site with an eye to what vaccine they’re offering. The Indiana Department of Health, for instance, last week hosted its first of four mass immunization clinics to deliver only the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine, including the one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s where Gov. Eric Holcomb got his shot.

Age can also play a role. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for those 16 and up but the Johnson and Johnson and Moderna vaccines are only approved for those 18 and older.

How do I register for a vaccine?

If you are an eligible Indiana resident, you can sign up at ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211. There are about 450 sites around Indiana where those who are eligible can be vaccinated.

Once I am vaccinated, what can I do?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday released guidelines for what people can do once they have achieved full immunity a few weeks after their final dose.

The guidelines say that people who are fully vaccinated can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without having to worry about wearing masks or social distancing.

You’ve been vaccinated. Here’s when life should get back to normal

Fully vaccinated people can also visit indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without wearing masks or socially distancing if everyone in the other household is at low risk of contracting severe disease, the guidelines say.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Here’s what you need to know about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines

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