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Johnson & Johnson Says Its Booster Shot Raises Antibody Levels 9-Fold

Jassen COVID-19 Vaccine on shelf

Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Johnson & Johnson reports a second dose of its COVID-19 vaccine could increase antibody levels nine-fold based on new interim data.
  • The FDA has yet to authorize a Johnson & Johnson booster.
  • Experts say a Johnson & Johnson booster could help reach vulnerable populations who initially did not have access to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday reported that its booster shot could increase immunity nine-fold based on the company’s new interim data.

The company said two new studies show that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine “generated a rapid and robust increase in spike-binding antibodies” in people ages 18 to 55 and in those 65 years and older, who received a "lower booster dose."

“We look forward to discussing with public health officials a potential strategy for our Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, boosting eight months or longer after the primary single-dose vaccination,” Mathai Mammen, MD, PhD, Johnson & Johnson’s global head of the Janssen Research & Development, said in a press release.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently authorized mRNA COVID-19 booster shots for immunocompromised people, followed by the Biden administration’s announcement of a booster rollout for the general population starting in September. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has yet to be approved for this rollout, but experts say adding it to the list could be essential for continuing to protect marginalized communities against COVID-19.

“It's not always easy to get to clinics,” Mary Owen, MD, president of the Association of American Indian Physicians, tells Verywell. “Folks who are stressed because they're working too many jobs, or they're fighting to pay for their housing, or whatever else in their life—Health care is something that you can put aside unless you're dying from it.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been a lifesaver for vulnerable communities, Owen says, noting that “vulnerable communities” include a wide range of populations based on racial and ethnic groups, geographic location, physical conditions, and income.

She adds that a Johnson & Johnson booster will likewise be important for vaccine equity. To make sure that people are able to fit a booster shot appointment into their schedules, she says, government and local organizations should be stepping up and providing clinics near where people live.

"Vulnerable communities definitely need to have the option of a one-shot dose,” Owen says, adding that the Delta variant amplifies the importance of boosters for any COVID-19 vaccine.

The current consensus is that people will need a booster shot around eight months after completing their initial COVID-19 vaccination series. This timeframe is based on studies of the vaccines’ waning immune response to COVID-19 overtime. It’s hard to determine whether the timeline aligns with how long immunity lasts from vaccines for other diseases, Owen says.

“I can't remember the last time we've had anything like COVID to compare it to,” Owen adds. “It'd be comparing apples to oranges with these different diseases.”

Some debate has circled around whether it’s more important for the United States to begin administering boosters or continue efforts to reach herd immunity first. Owen says this issue further highlights health disparities, which have been exasperated during the pandemic. 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been used as a preferred method for the homeless population, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company has also announced a commitment to addressing social injustices in communities of color during the pandemic.

Some are concerned that Johnson & Johnson’s bid for boosters may worsen global vaccine inequity. The New York Times reported that South Africa, which has ordered 31 million doses from the company, is still waiting on a majority of the delivery.

“Do I feel bad about vulnerable populations getting a booster? Absolutely not,” Owen says. “Do I feel bad about the U.S. having more access to vaccines while parts of our world aren't even getting a single shot? Absolutely.”

What This Means For You

If you received a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, the company says a booster dose could be increase antibody levels dramatically. U.S. health agencies have yet to authorize a second shot of the vaccine, but will begin to rollout mRNA boosters this fall.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Nanduri S, Pilishvili T, Derado G, et al. Effectiveness of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Vaccines in Preventing SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Nursing Home Residents Before and During Widespread Circulation of the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant — National Healthcare Safety Network, March 1–August 1, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 18 August 2021. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7034e3