Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine trial to resume as pressure mounts

Medical staff handle a vaccine.

As the amount of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the country, the pressure is on to develop a vaccine, but health experts say development should not be rushed.

Dr. Frank Rhame of Allina Health is part of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine trial which was paused October 12 when a participant got sick. Rhame said he learned Friday, the person’s illness was determined to be unrelated to the vaccine and the study will resume.

“So we should be starting up very soon,” said Rhame. “We have everything we need, we have vaccine, and we’re ready to go as soon as everything’s un-paused.”

It’s good news for this rapid push to get a COVID-19 vaccine to market. Multiple vaccines are in various stages of testing.

“Now that has been a remarkable effort, nothing short of a Manhattan-like Project for public health,” said Dr. Mike Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota.

In a meeting Thursday, the FDA discussed the need to balance speed with safety, make sure any approved vaccine is effective and that it doesn’t stop testing others that might be better.

“That’s the challenge we have right now because we don’t want to have one that might be average then become the norm and not allow the other ones to be further evaluated,” said Osterholm.

To that end, a letter from Children’s Hospital on behalf of infectious disease specialists across Minnesota and Wisconsin recognized speed is important, but not the only factor.

“There is no doubt this is the fastest vaccine development in vaccine history,” said Patsy Stinchfield of Children's Minnesota.

Stinchfield says the concern is that the rapid pace does not cut corners.

“We will likely be some of the first ones to get the vaccine and to give them to our patients in infectious disease within Minnesota, so we’re just watching this very closely,” said Stinchfield. “We want to have transparency and good communication.”

As for the soon to be un-paused Johnson & Johnson trials, called the “Ensemble Study,” Allina’s Dr. Rhame hopes people will go to online and sign up to take part.

He says he hopes a safe vaccine is on the horizon.

“I just don’t want it to happen from political pressure, I want it to be made based on the best available scientific evidence,” said Dr. Rhame.