I Have Something to Say

Pfizer Snobs Are Wrong. Johnson & Johnson Is the Coolest Vaccine.

A tattoo of a heart around J & J
I’m a one-shotter, baby. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Liliia Beda on Unsplash.

Social media is rife with vaccine braggarts claiming allegiance to #TeamPfizer or the #ModernaGang. You’d think I’d be jealous, since I didn’t get either of those vaccines. I got the vax that youths on TikTok are comparing to a flip phone. But guess what? I’m sitting over here, chuckling at those chumps and their two-shot vaccines. Why? I’m a one-shotter, baby. I received the coolest, the most efficient, the least painful, and the most elite vaccine of all. I’m J&J, all the way.

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“Oh, my Pfizer vaccine is cool,” I hear you saying. Let me raise my arm, which only received a single shot so it doesn’t hurt to do so, in order to stroke my chin in thought. What makes a product cool? Exclusivity, of course. The product you covet is the product you can’t get: the limited-run sneaker, the screenprint in an edition of 50, the makeup collection that sells out in an hour. Well, what could be more exclusive than a vaccine that the FDA literally wouldn’t let you take for half of April? (The pause, to check out a rare but dangerous clotting side effect, was lifted April 23; experts suggest that women under 50 who don’t have another reason to take the J&J vaccine and who can access Pfizer or Moderna might want to choose those instead.)

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Even before the hiatus, the numbers didn’t lie: When J&J was paused, only about 7 million shots had been given in the United States. That’s basically a limited edition compared with the more than 200 million Pfizer and Moderna shots that have been doled out willy-nilly. Think of J&J as the boutique vaccine, and Pfizer as the Target jab. Sweetie, that shot looks lovely on you, of course, but I’ve heard they’ll give it to just about anyone—even teenagers, ew.

Yet while I bask in my status as a J&J one-shotter, I can also rest assured that my vaccine of choice will, in the long run, drive vaccine equity around the world. One dose, not two, and stable with a regular old refrigerator: That’s why officials are counting on the J&J shot to increase vaccination rates in rural and low-income neighborhoods, and why hundreds of millions of J&J vaccines will soon be delivered to COVAX, the global vaccine initiative. An elite vaccine that somehow is also the vaccine of the people? Mmm, I love that for me.

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“Each time I got my Moderna vaccine, I posted a selfie,” you brag. Oh, each time? Funny, because I’m not sure I’ve mentioned yet that I only had to make one trip to the Lubber Run Community Center to get my one Johnson & Johnson shot. If I asked a child the number of times she wished to have a sharp needle stuck into her arm, she’d know the correct answer: zero. Which is closer to zero, one (the number of shots of the J&J vaccine I got) or two (the number of shots of the Pfizer vaccine you got)? The answer is one, the number of shots of the J&J vaccine I got. One is basically half as many as two. Not only is that half as many sharp needles piercing your skin, that’s half as many carbon-burning drives to the vaccine site, half as many hours spent standing in line, half as many chances to feel gross side effects.

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Most importantly, getting the J&J vaccine means way less time until you’re fully vaccinated. I hope you had a great time at your second vaccine appointment, I truly do. The selfie looks great. You know what I was doing three to four weeks after my first shot? Hugging my fellow J&J vaccinated friends in their living room. I can’t wait to hug you—like, a month from now or whatever.

“My Pfizer vaccine is stronger because it’s 95 percent effective,” you bleat. I admit that’s very good! But the numbers are complicated—Pfizer trials took place in populations where virus variants had not yet taken hold, for starters. I might argue that the actual vaccine liquid in each J&J shot is more efficient than Pfizer because, if you really think about it, there’s 66 effectiveness percentages in a J&J shot, while each Pfizer shot only has 47.5 effectiveness percentages. You might argue in response that this is ridiculous, that’s not actually how vaccine efficiency works, and I would grudgingly agree, but then I would counter that what really matters is the reduction in risk of dying of COVID, which is frankly the big thing I’m worried about overall: dying. That risk reduction is the same in all three vaccines: 100 percent.

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What’s truly standing in the way of J&J achieving the prestige it deserves is that no one has come up with a good hashtag for it. The ampersand is an impediment, for sure. And to say one is “getting Johnsoned” does not emit the high-class tone, to say the least, of “getting Pfizered.” But that’s OK. We J&J folks are happy keeping quiet about ours, the best vaccine. That’s why, when I meet my fellow J&J recipients on the street (unmasked, thanks, CDC!), we play it cool. Just a subtle nod, maybe an index finger and thumb hooked in an unmistakable J shape. (No, that’s not an L. Totally different.) Sometimes we whistle a little of “Lose Yourself” as we pass. You only get one shot, after all.

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