Science officer: ‘J&J vaccine pause is good science’

Coronavirus

'It shows how protective our public health and science system is'

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — One-quarter of all Americans are now vaccinated against COVID-19 with millions more being vaccinated every day. The current CDC pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is out of an abundance of caution.

Dr. Alonzo Pugh, currently the chief science officer and Vice President at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, said the entire development in the vaccine products is excellent science in action.

“That you could develop products with this kind of effectiveness this quickly and get them into emergency use authorization and that we have a monitoring system that is so good that this quickly, we can find the 1 in a million, 6 people out of 6 million vaccinated who had this rare blood disorder and are right now being able to determine what it is about those individuals that may have caused this risk, or if it is, or is not related to the vaccine,” Plough told KOIN 6 News.

Daily average of COVID cases in US since pandemic began
CDC – COVID data tracker

“So this J and J pause is good science. It shows how protective our public health and science system is. And that’s what you want to see. For anyone who was hesitant or fearful about vaccine might draw the wrong conclusion from this, that this is science not working. In fact, it’s just the opposite.”

The CDC said the blood clots were found in combination with low levels of blood platelets. All 6 cases were women between 18-48 and their symptoms happened within 6-14 days after the vaccination.

Plough, who spent a decade as the director of Public Health in Seattle and King County, said all humans have underlying health conditions. Scientists and doctors will look at each case to see if there was a link and to come up with protocols for any treatment — just as they did when they found rare cases of allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine.

He also said the variants of the virus are going to be the biggest hurdle we face to end the pandemic.

“The variants that are circulating around you, the states right now, the current studies show that the antibodies that are produced by the current vaccine products are protective against those variants,” Plough said. “The whole key to preventing variants, which is a real risk out there, is getting to herd immunity as fast as possible because viruses mutate. That’s what they do when there are susceptible people. So the whole thing that we need to do is make sure that we reduce the number of susceptible people.”

Humans are connected globally, he said, so our ability to get back to some kind of normal life relies on getting people in the most rural and remote places on other continents vaccinated.

Plough said he’s relieved the US is involved in helping make that happen.

“You know, we have done this globally with polio, with disease eradication efforts. We can do that again. And it’s just as important,” he said “As a long-time public health practitioner, I think we’ll get there.”

He doesn’t think the Johnson & Johnson pause will slow Oregon’s ability to reach herd immunity. The J&J vaccine is not the majority product in the state and Oregon’s health officials are already shifting people to the Moderna vaccine.

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