Diving into the science: Richmond infectious disease expert talks vaccine safety, hesitancy and trust

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — COVID-19 vaccinations are going into arms with more than 41 percent of Virginians receiving at least the first dose. However, many people are still skeptical about the vaccine and its production.

8News spoke to Dr. Jeffrey Donowitz, a pediatric infectious disease expert from Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, to help calm some of the anxieties around the coronavirus vaccine.

Topic #1: How can we know the vaccines are safe? Why should we trust in them?

“All of these vaccines went through the standard trials that all vaccines and medicines have had to go through to prove they are safe,” Donowitz said. “None of that was compromised in bringing those to market so quickly.”

Donowitz said the J&J pause is a great example of tracking vaccine data and adverse effects.

“It gives me great comfort knowing the vaccine adverse event reporting system, which is designed to catch one in a million adverse effects that the trials may have missed, is working perfectly,” Donowitz said.

Topic #2: Help us understand why the J&J vaccine was paused and why it might be coming back into the market so quickly?

“The vaccine adverse event reporting system, where any adverse reaction to a vaccine can be reported by any provider across the country,” Donowitz said. “A pattern was found with the rare type of blood clots and people who had received the J&J. When those types of patterns are flagged up, the safest thing to do is to pause giving the vaccine and investigate to see if it is really due to the vaccine.”

He said, out of 6.8 million doses given, there were seven events involving rare blood clots.

Topic #3: How can we know that vaccines were safely produced and tested given a seemingly rushed process?

“The longest part of creating a vaccine happens before a shot ever goes into a human. It is all lab work,” Donowitz said. “That takes years and years.”

He said those who study infectious disease knew about the coronavirus long before the pandemic began and were able to get to work quickly.

“We had that data out of China before the virus ever hit the U.S. The pre-clinical phase was shortened from years to days, in this situation. None of that has to do with safety,” Donowitz said.

Topic #4: Why is it important to get the vaccine right now and not wait for more time to see how people react to it?

“One thing I don’t think people realize is that the vast majority of vaccine side effects happen within the first 30 days,” Donowitz said. “Almost all of the side effects happen within three months of getting the shot. This is when your body is reacting to that shot. You don’t get a vaccine and get a reaction a year later.”

Topic #5: How can we trust your experience to tell us about vaccine safety? What is your experience with the COVID-19 vaccine?

“I have been a part of the COVID-19 response at VCU. In terms of working on getting some of the therapies up and running, I ran the convalescent plasma program at VCU. I currently have a National Science Foundation grant to study how the human microbiome interacts with this virus,” Donowitz said. “If you are a scientist in 2020, you made yourself a COVID-19 expert.”

Watch the full 8News interview with Dr. Donowitz to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.

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