Central Ohio health experts remain confident in Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — After four states paused use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, doctors in central Ohio remain confident in the single-dose treatment.

Health officials in Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa paused use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in recent days after people receiving the shot experienced side effects, including dizziness and fainting, shortly after it was administered.

North Carolina resumed use of the vaccine Monday after health officials investigated.

“So far, what we know about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is roughly over 5 million doses have been given this country, and there have been no serious safety signals reported,” said Dr. Joseph Gastaldo, an infectious disease specialist at OhioHealth. “Most of the people who have these reactions were just observed there at the vaccination site, and then sent home. There were a few people who did go to the hospital to be observed, but there was nobody who had a serious outcome over the weekend.”

Gastaldo shared publicly available data comparing clinical trials outcomes of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States. It shows fewer reports of side effects associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, compared to the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Gastaldo said the fact that some states chose to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine reinforces his confidence that it is safe to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“As a physician, that actually makes me feel better when we have these pauses and do a deep dive,” Gastaldo said. “However, if after doing a deep dive, there’s no safety signals that come up, we should feel even more confident that the vaccine is safe.”

Gastaldo does not believe use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be paused in Ohio, nor does Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts.

“I’m still very confident in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Roberts said.

Roberts called the Johnson & Johnson vaccine a “game-changer” for the vaccination effort in Columbus, allowing providers to reach people in communities that have been harder to vaccinate.

“I think, one, the fact that it’s one dose— people like that,” she said. “What we’ve also heard from the community is that it’s a name they’re familiar with. They’ve heard of Johnson & Johnson before. We’ve been able to use it to do vaccines to those who are homebound because of how it’s stored.”

Roberts said she has not noticed any impact of recent headlines on the public’s trust of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“I think, if anything, people are preferring Johnson & Johnson over the Pfizer because (Pfizer) is a multi-dose vaccine,” Roberts said.

As of Monday morning, there were roughly 900 available appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 3,000 openings for the Pfizer vaccine through Columbus Public Health, which allows people to choose which shot they receive.

Roberts does not believe the decrease in demand stems from any distrust from the public.

“I want to think that some people have just been, for lack of a better word, paralyzed by what they’ve heard,” Roberts said. “They’ve heard of how hard it is to get an appointment, and so they just don’t know what to do to get an appointment.”

Following the news that multiple states paused use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health issued the following statement:

“Adverse effects are rare and are monitored closely by the CDC and federal officials. Suspected vaccine-related issues are reported to the CDC’s VAERS system which will lead to an expert evaluation of the clinical facts of the case to determine if vaccine administration was causal or coincidental. If the Ohio Department of Health becomes aware of potential adverse reaction – our role is to make sure it is in VAERS and that CDC is aware. We are assessing whether there is any Ohio impact and are looking to the CDC and FDA to inform any action.”

Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the Food and Drug Administration recommend that doctors stop administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The two agencies are working with state health departments to understand the adverse events that took place in Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina and Iowa.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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