An expert on vaccine research says the pause in a Johnson & Johnson clinical trial of a potential COVID-19 vaccine after a participant became sick is not unusual.
"Because this is happening under a global microscope, we hear, we want to know, and we ask the question, 'What does that mean?'" said Dr. Paul Duprex, director of the Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh.
Duprex understands public interest in the pause in Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial. The University of Pittsburgh hadn't been a part of the Johnson & Johnson study but anticipates it will be.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine are continuing their work on a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The university's Center For Vaccine Research works with them and also collaborates with other researchers around the world.
"Pauses in a clinical trial are very very common. They happen often (and) this is just part of the process of how clinical trials are run," Duprex said.
With word of the unexplained illness of one participant, Duprex said an independent review is automatically launched.
"A committee pulled together. They will look at 'Did the person receive the vaccine, did the person get the placebo, what type of adverse affect was it? How long did it last?'" he said.
Duprex says that with the study this large, unrelated incidents are a possibility.
"Just because people have had illnesses does not mean that the vaccine that is being tested in 60,000 people caused that illness," Duprex said.
He suggests thinking in terms of what could happen in a neighborhood that size.
Duprex says the pause in the Johnson & Johnson trial to look closer at what happened shows the process is working — and demonstrates people are not rushing.
"I think it's very important to have these conversations, so that we can reassure the public that this is normal. That this is the way it should be," Duprex said.
On Sept. 23, Johnson and Johnson started enrolling 60,000 volunteers for its Phase 3 study in the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa.
The projected eight to 12 month timeline of federal health officials for development of a vaccine is still underway.