East Orange town hall meeting discusses Johnson & Johnson vaccine controversy

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — Back again for another Facebook Live virtual town hall on April 14, East Orange Mayor Ted Green began the meeting with an open discussion about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which has been all over the news lately, due to concerns about women and blood clots. Joining the discussion were East Orange Health Officer Victor Kuteyi and Dr. Anuj Mehta, chief medical officer at East Orange General Hospital.

Mehta explained that vaccines have been key in fighting COVID-19.

“The vaccination is one of the only methods where we’ll be able to get out of this pandemic, along with masks and social distancing,” Mehta said. “Right now, everyone can get vaccinated over the age of 16. In the state of New Jersey, about 2.3 million people have been vaccinated; that means completing both series of Pfizer and Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson. About 5 and a half million doses have been administered in the state of New Jersey. That is pretty commendable…. 

“Even at East Orange General, we’ve administered more than 6,000 doses to individuals,” he continued. “That seems like a small number compared to the millions, but, again, this is us trying to make it happen within the city.”

Mehta then tackled the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine that has been causing a stir for the past couple of weeks. According to Mehta, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine gives those who receive it approximately 85-percent protection against severe disease and hospitalization.

“However, what has happened since Johnson & Johnson has been released, is that we’ve had six cases of blood clots that formed in the person’s blood vessels,” Mehta said. “There were six cases that we know about, and that led to everyone taking a pause and saying, ‘You know what, out of an abundance of caution, we should evaluate this further before we recommend it again.’ So, what has happened is not that the vaccine is bad, or that there are issues with it, but they are trying to study it to make sure it is safe to administer.”

Mehta explained how uncommon the blood clots are.

“The vaccine causing clots is about possibly .09 incidences for every 100,000 vaccinations,” Mehta said. “Compare that to if you were on an old contraceptive pill, you’d have 2.7 to 40 chances (of getting a blood clot) for every 100,000 people who are on it, meaning that the vaccine is much safer than the old contraceptive pill that people are taking. However, given the fact that it is a vaccine and it is something that we need to get people’s trust in, the decision was made, out of an abundance of caution, to halt it until we have further evaluation of the study.

“COVID-19, itself, is very much active in the community, and we are still seeing it in the hospital,” he continued. “We’ve gone from having just one patient in early January and early February, to now up to 10, 11, 12 patients on a daily basis. The point that I’m trying to make is, people are still getting sick, the pandemic is not over, and just because we’re not talking about it as much as we used to or we’re not in lockdown, doesn’t mean that it’s over. It’s still very much in our midst, and we are still in a pandemic.”

During the forum, Green also addressed the prominence of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in East Orange.

“This week alone, there have been so many people that took the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Green said to Mehta. “So, I thought it was important to ensure people of the information that you can provide and to keep them safe, in terms of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I knew many people were going to have questions about what happened.”

According to Mehta, when it comes to how long it takes for the body to be immune after being fully vaccinated, with the two-dose vaccine of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, two weeks after the first dose confers approximately 45- to 50-percent protection and, about two weeks after the second dose, 95-percent protection. Doctors have also noted that, for those who do still manage to contract COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine, symptoms are less severe, resulting in fewer hospitalizations.