Which COVID Vaccine Is Better for Seniors?

Posted on 11/15/2021

The risk for severe COVID-19 disease gets higher with age. With the Delta variant being a dominant and highly infectious strain, vaccination is an even more important part of public health, infectious disease control and prevention, and your own health. The Centers for Disease Control recommends people over age 65 years get vaccinated as soon as possible.

But, which COVID vaccine is better for seniors? There are some differences between the vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccine Types

Several COVID-19 vaccines are being studied, but only three of them are available in the United States. These three fall into two types of vaccines: mRNA vaccines or viral vector vaccines.

mRNA Vaccines

The mRNA vaccines are a new technology. Where other vaccines use a weakened or dead virus to trigger an immune response, these vaccines use messenger RNA, called mRNA, from the virus. Messenger RNA is an information blueprint that tells cells how to make proteins. Once the cell finishes making proteins, it breaks down the mRNA.

The vaccines use mRNA from the virus, which is a harmless protein from its outer layer, and deliver it to your body. Your cells use the mRNA to make a viral protein and your immune system responds by making antibodies to it. These antibodies are immune proteins that will attack the virus if you become exposed.

Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna are mRNA vaccines.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

In August 2021, The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine under the brand name Comirnaty for people aged 16 and older.

Vaccine Effectiveness

According to the Centers for Disease Control, clinical trials show that people aged 65 years and older were 95% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 when they received the full two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Older adults in this age range with only one dose were 64% less likely to be hospitalized than those who weren’t vaccinated.

Pfizer-BioNTech has high effectiveness in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects of the vaccine include:

  • Headache
  • Sore arm
  • Tiredness
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea

Studies show that side effects are mostly mild, but stronger symptoms are common after the second dose. The Pfizer vaccine carries a warning label for a risk of heart muscle or heart lining inflammation in young adults.

Moderna Vaccine

The Modern vaccine was authorized in 2020 by the FDA for emergency use. In August 2021, the FDA changed the guidelines to allow it to also be given as a booster shot for immunocompromised people.

Vaccine Effectiveness

The CDC says that all mRNA vaccines have high effectiveness in preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Seniors 65 years and older who received two doses of Moderna were 95% less likely to be hospitalized. Those who received one dose were 64% less likely to be hospitalized.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects include:

  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • >Sore arm
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Chills

Side effects are also mostly mild but can be stronger with the second dose. Moderna also carries a warning for a risk of heart inflammation in young adults, though it is rare.

Covid Vaccines

 

Viral Vector Vaccines

Viral vector vaccines use a different harmless virus as a carrier to deliver information to your immune system. For COVID-19 vaccines, the carrier or vector virus is modified with an inactive protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Your body sees this protein as a foreign invader and makes immune proteins against it.

Such gives you vaccine protection against this infectious disease. The next time you encounter the COVID-19 virus, these immune proteins will mark it for destruction and protect you from getting severely sick.

The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine is a viral vector vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson Janssen

The Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine was authorized in February 2021 for emergency use to prevent COVID-19. The authorization was changed in April 2021 to include warnings for the risk of rare blood clots in people who get the vaccine. The vaccine is a single dose.

Vaccine Effectiveness

Protection happens about two weeks after the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Clinical trials show that people who received the single dose of this vaccine were 66.9% less likely to have moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects include:

  • Pain and swelling in your arm
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills

In rare cases, some individuals might experience blood clots with low platelets.

Getting Vaccinated

Vaccines are free and available to all seniors age 65 years and older in the United States regardless of your health care insurance status. While deciding which vaccine to get can be a personal decision between you and your doctor, keep in mind the FDA has officially approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Both the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccine are still on Emergency Use Authorization with the FDA at the time of writing this article. The CDC recommends all older adults get vaccinated, but there may be special times you shouldn’t. If you have severe allergies or questions about your health and vaccines, talk to your doctor.