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Answering your COVID questions: ‘Do vaccines contain a live virus?’

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine
Posted at 7:39 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 20:11:37-05

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Janssen COVID-19 vaccine has been submitted for emergency use authorization from the FDA, meaning a new weapon could soon be added to the arsenal against coronavirus.

With a new vaccine possibly coming soon, WCPO 9 viewer Charles Wetzel asked on Facebook: “I had heard that the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine contains a live virus. Is that true?”

The short answer: no.

Dr. Steve Feagins, Hamilton County Public Health medical director and chief clinical officer at Mercy Health, explained that these vaccines don’t use live viruses. Instead, they use an adenovirus vector, which is a weaker, genetically engineered virus.

“It's based on an adenovirus -- almost the exact same vaccine used for Zika, shingles and meningitis -- and so it's a well-used adenovirus vector for vaccines, used in many vaccines in the past,” Feagins said.

It’s possible you’ve been infected with an adenovirus before. According to the CDC, adenovirus causes a range of illnesses, like bronchitis, pneumonia and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

They can also cause cold-like symptoms, like a fever and sore throat. People with weakened immune systems or existing respiratory or cardiac diseases are more likely to get very sick from an adenovirus infection.

Similar to a flu vaccine, the most common side effects for current COVID-19 vaccines include pain at the injection site, and about one in five people may experience minor side effects like low-grade fever or nausea.

This month, WCPO 9 is taking your questions about COVID-19 vaccines and posing them to local health care experts. Email newsdesk@wcpo.com or message @KristynHartmanWCPO on Facebook with your name, neighborhood and question, and you could see an expert answer it on air.

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Senior Reporter Larry Seward is focusing his reporting on the COVID-19 vaccine to bring you answers and information. Contact Larry at 513-667-4804 or larry.seward@wcpo.com.