What’s in Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 Vaccine?

Proven vaccine technologies reveal a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccination

Jesse Smith, MD
Medium Coronavirus Blog
4 min readFeb 24, 2021

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Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adenovirus_D26_wiki.png

As vaccines begin to roll out across the United States, a third contender has risen through the ranks as a viable candidate for Covid-19 protection. The Johnson & Johnson AD26.COV2.S vaccine offers strong protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in only a single shot.

With the vaccine inching closer to public availability, this article details the exact ingredients included in each shot.

The basics

The AD26.COV2.S vaccine utilizes adenovirus technology to expose human immune systems to SARS-CoV-2 virus antigens. This is achieved by cloning a copy of DNA that encodes the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein into a loop of DNA called a plasmid, which is then housed within a modified adenovirus.

Once introduced into the body, the modified adenovirus binds and enters human cells. At this point, the body of the virus essentially disintegrates, allowing the genetic material within to travel into the nucleus of human cells. Once there, native enzymes that transcribe DNA into mRNA take over and start to turn out strips of mRNA that code for the spike proteins. These mRNA strips — called transcripts — are then translated into the spike protein. Finally, the spike proteins are then packed and sent to the outer cell membrane where they can be accessed by the host immune system.

Adenovirus technology

Adenovirus vaccine technology has been in existence for some time. Adenoviruses in their natural form cause diseases ranging from the common cold to pink eye. Their ability to efficiently invade human cells makes them an ideal vector to shuttle genetic material into a cell.

In order to make an adenovirus a useful vector for a vaccine, it must first be modified such that the vector itself cannot cause illness. This would be an obvious downside to any vaccine. Johnson & Johnson used the vaccine vector Adenovirus 26 (AD26), which has a key gene called E1 deleted from its genome. Without the E1 gene, AD26 is still able to gain access into human cells, but is incapable of replicating. As such, AD26 is incapable of creating an infection within the human…

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Jesse Smith, MD
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Physician and molecular biologist. I write about science, medicine, vaccines and dogs…yes dogs.