The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] International Vaccine Institute’s fully vaccinated chief shares why he’s still taking precautions

COVID-19 jab works well in preventing disease, but not necessarily transmission

By Kim Arin

Published : June 6, 2021 - 17:53

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Dr. Jerome H. Kim, the International Vaccine Institute’s director general, receives Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine at Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul on April 7. (courtesy of Dr. Kim) Dr. Jerome H. Kim, the International Vaccine Institute’s director general, receives Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine at Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul on April 7. (courtesy of Dr. Kim)

International Vaccine Institute Director General Dr. Jerome H. Kim says he is still taking minimal risks more than a month since becoming fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an email exchange with The Korea Herald, Kim said Saturday he has “not changed behavior much at all” after getting Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine on April 7. He and his wife both received the vaccine at Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul as a retired US military officer and dependent.

“My wife and I continue to exercise precaution when dining out and continue to eat in and out in groups of four or less. We have not been to church in person,” he said. He adheres to mask wearing when he’s not alone in the office, while running and in meetings.

As Korea is “not at the point yet where significant numbers of people are vaccinated,” virtual work, protection in public places and other safety measures “remain critical,” he said.

“I was once exposed at work after vaccination. But all those present wore masks the entire time and were more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart from one another,” he said. He was tested, and was negative.

“I think it is important to remember that the vaccination protects you from disease -- particularly severe disease, hospitalization and death -- very well. It does less well in preventing infection. The combination of a mask and vaccination presumably is better.”

He said although people who have been vaccinated probably will not get as sick, they can pick up mild or symptomless infections.

“If you become infected after vaccination you could still transmit the virus to others -- hence, the need to wear masks to protect others,” he said. “The vaccine may decrease the amount of virus in the nose and throat, so that hopefully will also decrease transmission, but we haven’t formally proven that.”

He said his experience with the vaccine was “all in all, pretty unremarkable.”

“As with many vaccines it burned a little while being pushed in,” he said.

He said he was observed for signs of anaphylaxis -- a very rare allergic reaction that occurs within 15 to 30 minutes of vaccination -- but like most, had none. “They keep you for 15 minutes to make sure you won’t pass out or develop an immediate allergic reaction,” he said. “You look for immediate pain, redness, swelling, itching, etc. No wheezing or shortness of breath, no hives or rashes.”

His side effects were minor, and largely confined to the injection site.

Later that day, the arm was “a little sore,” he said. “It was a little more painful and slightly tender to touch, like being punched.

“But otherwise, no fever, rashes, itching, no headache or fever, no muscle aches or aching joints. I also did the usual 4-mile (6.4-kilometer) run in the morning without a problem. By the next day, hardly anything.”

He said his wife, who is a vaccine immunologist, too, tolerated the Johnson & Johnson vaccine relatively well. “I think she had more reactions to the Shingrix vaccine she received for shingles,” he said.

As the vaccine rollout expands in the country, he said he hoped for less mask wearing in the summer.

“I am looking forward to being able to run and walk outside without a mask later this summer,” he said. “I hope that the Korean government will reach agreement with other governments, particularly of those countries with high rates of vaccination, for quarantine free travel -- with appropriate testing.”

By Kim Arin (