Differences in COVID-19 Vaccines

Since COVID-19 was first reported in December 2019, scientists have been hard at work developing an effective vaccine. While there are still many vaccines currently undergoing trial testing, three vaccines are currently approved in the United States. As of May 11, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and most recently, Johnson & Johnson for their COVID-19 vaccines. All three of these vaccines are designed to protect against severe symptoms of COVID-19 but have slight variations.


Developed as a joint effort between pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer and biotechnological leader, BioNTech, this vaccine was the first to be administered in the United States. While there are several different types of vaccines, including live attenuated vaccines which contain a weakened version of the pathogen, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. Messenger RNA vaccines contain a small, harmless protein that’s used as a blueprint to create protection against that particular pathogen.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine did a great job in the clinical trials, proving to have a 95% efficacy rate after two doses in people over the age of 16. After the initial vaccination, people administered the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must come back at least 21-days later for their second dose to in order to improve their protection. During the trials, there were no signs of major changes in efficacy across age, race, and/or gender. Additionally, the FDA has authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use in adolescents ages 12 through 15.

Quick Facts:

  • mRNA vaccine
  • Two doses, 21-days apart
  • 95% effective across ages, races, and genders
  • Authorized for use in people ages 12+


Similar to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA to create antibodies and immune responses to proteins in your body. It’s because of this technology that scientists were able to turn around a vaccine in record time. Decades before COVID-19 changed our world, researchers were hard at work developing this reliable method for vaccines.

As the Moderna vaccine underwent clinical trials, it proved to be 94% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. In comparison to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, if you’re administered the Moderna vaccine, your second vaccination should be scheduled 28-days after your initial dose.

Quick Facts:

  • mRNA vaccine
  • Two doses, 28-days apart
  • 94% effective across ages, races, and genders


The latest vaccine to be approved by the FDA is from the pharmaceutical giant, Johnson & Johnson. While the other vaccines use mRNA to introduce a spike protein to the body, this vaccine is what’s known as a viral vector vaccine. These types of vaccines use a modified version of a different virus (not the virus that causes COVID-19) as a vector to produce a harmless spike protein that causes COVID-19. This triggers an immune response and stimulates antibody production inside your body. Viral vector vaccines are another great option to give us protection without having the consequences of becoming ill.

During clinical testing, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine proved to be 72% effective at preventing COVID-19, and 86% effective at preventing severe symptoms. While these numbers are well below the efficacy rates of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to store and only needs one dosage, rather than two. Additionally, this vaccine was 100% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths during trials.

Quick Facts

  • Viral vector vaccine
  • One dosage
  • 72% effective across ages, races, and genders
  • 100% effective against hospitalizations and deaths

While there may be differences between all three vaccines currently available, you should not wait to schedule your vaccination when you’re eligible. Additionally, all three of these vaccines use spike proteins to trigger an autoimmune response; they will not infect you with COVID-19. You may experience some minor side effects after vaccinations; symptoms typically last for 24-48 hours. If you have any additional questions regarding the available COVID-19 vaccines, please visit the CDC’s website.

If you’ve been exposed to someone who has recently tested positive for the coronavirus, or are traveling soon, schedule your COVID-19 test at your local  ARCpoint Labs. With convenient testing options available, get the information you need before you make decisions about seeing friends, family, or returning to work.