Amid Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause, UNC health professor says 'fantasy' of no risk is unrealistic

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021
UNC professor on vaccine hesitancy: We have 'fantasy' of no risk
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"Most prevention things we do have a little bit of risk involved," said one UNC professor as some become hesitant in light of the J&J vaccine pause.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Dr. Noel Brewer will be the first to tell you that he is not a medical professional. However, listen to him for any amount of time and it's clear he's earned the Dr. prefix.

Brewer is a professor of health behavior at UNC-Chapel Hill and spoke with ABC11 Tuesday afternoon to discuss the lingering vaccine hesitancy in the light of the CDC pausing the distribution of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines across the U.S.

"We have this fantasy of prevention activities as having no risk whatsoever. But that just doesn't match the real world," said Brewer. His comments come after six women, all between the ages of 18 and 48, developed severe blood clots after receiving the Janssen vaccine. One of the women died.

"Most prevention things we do have a little bit of risk involved," said Brewer.

Over six million Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with several experiencing "adverse" reactions. Others reporting a mild fever, chills, and an associated headache which health experts have said are common and signs your body is working properly in conjunction with the vaccine.

The Johnson & Johnson pause also comes less than a week after Triangle-area vaccine providers decided to continue with Janssen vaccinations following the CDC determining the vaccine was safe to be administered.

Blood clot risk no higher in J&J vaccine recipients than that of the general population, experts say

Dr. Brewer understands why people like make the decisions they do.

"It's true that novel situations make people uncomfortable. They start to perceive risk in situations where the risk is novel and uncontrollable and those things create a an effect of reaction," Brewer said. "But as often divorced from the facts, we just get afraid. And that feeling of being afraid is a reasonable one."

When the vaccine was first introduced, Dr. Brewer initially declined receiving one; instead urging those who needed it the most to get their spot in line. However, he soon changed his mind.

"One of the most effective ways to increase confidence in a vaccine is to ensure that the people who are in charge of vaccination speak out in favor of it," added Brewer. "The way to solve it is not the internet. It's not talking into your friends. The way to solve it is talking to a healthcare professional who's trained in this. They can help set your mind at ease. And then together you can make a plan."