NORRISTOWN — Stressing the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, two of Montgomery County’s top elected officials rolled up their sleeves Wednesday morning to get vaccinated at St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Norristown.

“What I want people to know is the FDA has determined that this is safe and effective. That’s why I'm here. That’s why I got it today,” said Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Val Arkoosh.

“I’m comfortable taking the Johnson & Johnson [vaccine],” said Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr.

Use of the one-shot vaccine was temporarily paused on April 13 at county-run vaccination clinics due to a “rare and severe type of blood clot in individuals following administration of the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine,” read an April 23 post on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Following federal oversight, representatives from the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “determined that the recommended pause regarding the use of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine in the U.S. should be lifted and use of the vaccine should resume.”

When speaking with reporters at the Norristown clinic, Arkoosh sought to reassure area residents, addressing reservations surrounding the vaccine’s 10-day hiatus.

“Well, I think most people want to understand why was it paused,” Arkoosh said. “And that is again a routine process. It’s what the FDA does all the time. It’s just that this particular medication got a lot of attention. And when they pause it, they look at all the data, and determine whether they think it’s safe and effective.”

Arkoosh acknowledged the FDA’s decision to pause the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in order “to safely monitor it,” adding “this is a very typical normal process for all drugs and other medications.”

While recognizing the vaccine’s “extremely rare side effect,” Arkoosh maintained that “the chances of getting COVID, and getting sick from COVID are much higher than any side effect from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

“So Commissioner Lawrence and I, we've been waiting our turn to get vaccinated, and we just wanted to come out today and let people know that we have confidence in this vaccine, and now we’re one and done, fully vaccinated,” she said.

Lawrence agreed, adding that he’d initially opted to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine prior to the pause, and after doing his research, he decided to stick with the same option.

“I did the reading. I talked to my doctor, and I think the benefits far outweigh the risks,” he said.

The Norristown-based house of worship will serve as a vaccination clinic, operating from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, at the church located at 215 Church St. The satellite location will have up to 250 doses available each day, according to a county spokesperson.

“It’s fantastic to have a walk-up site here in Norristown,” Lawrence said.

Additionally, representatives from ACLAMO Family Centers assisted in translation services, which Arkoosh said was a “critical, critical part of our outreach to our communities.”

Arkoosh cited that “outreach” as crucial in order to reach different communities across Montgomery County. Specifically, she noted that “televised town halls” with community leaders and expert panelists have proven effective in providing information surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I find as a doctor that when you give your patient the information, just give them the facts, and the tools they need to make their own decision, most times people will make the decision that’s going to protect their health and that is absolutely the case with this vaccine,” Arkoosh said. “COVID is still here. It’s here in a lot of big numbers and the best they can do to get their lives back to normal is get vaccinated.”

There were 172 COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday afternoon, according to the county's COVID-19 resources webpage. Officials have recorded 56,856 cases and 1,289 deaths in Montgomery County since March 7, 2020.

Neither Arkoosh nor Lawrence felt pain from actually getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Well, as a doctor I'm usually on the other side of the needle,” she said. “Today, I couldn't have been happier to be on the receiving end of that needle.”

For Lawrence, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus last year, he felt “relieved” after receiving the vaccine.

“It feels great to be vaccinated,” he said.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale was not present during Wednesday’s vaccination event. When asked if he’s received a COVID-19 vaccine, Gale said “I am strongly opposed to mandatory vaccinations, mandatory mask-wearing, mandatory business closures, and mandatory school closings.”

“I am a strong supporter of health care privacy rights and will use all my power to fight against the tyranny of vaccine passports,” he continued.

For more information about Montgomery County’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, visit www.montcopa.org/COVID-19Vaccine.

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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