By Jared S. Hopkins
Blood-clot issues surrounding Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19
vaccine could complicate the U.S. mass vaccination campaign,
deterring people who are already hesitant and giving room for
misinformation to spread, health experts said.
Concerns that the blood-clot issue will raise vaccine doubts led
the federal government to step up efforts to educate people about
the rare but serious blood clots and authorities' recommendation to
pause use of J&J's shot while the reports are investigated,
Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention issued the recommendation Monday,
after reports that six women ages 18 to 48 developed blood clots
and low-platelet counts following vaccination, and one of them
died. More than 6.8 million doses of J&J's shot have been
administered in the U.S.
The agencies acted correctly to be upfront and transparent about
the events, health experts said, but the public warning will add to
difficulties persuading many people that the vaccines are safe and
"If people are hesitant, this isn't going to make them any
happier, at least in the short run," said Dr. Martin Blaser,
director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at
Rutgers University and an investigator in the J&J vaccine's
Hesitancy to get vaccinated has been among the biggest
challenges for vaccination efforts, which are crucial to achieving
the community-wide immunity that health specialists say are needed
to lift restrictions and allow life to return to normal after the
Much progress overcoming the reluctance has been made since last
year. Researchers, community groups and religious leaders have
worked to educate people about the benefits of vaccines to counter
misinformation, and many people grew comfortable with getting
vaccinated after talking with trusted community members or friends
and family members who got the shots.
Fewer people surveyed expressed hesitancy compared with most of
last year, recent polls show. Just 17% of Americans in late March
said they were taking a "wait and see" approach about whether to
get vaccinated, a drop from 39% in December, according to a Kaiser
Family Foundation survey.
More than 60% of people surveyed by the foundation said in late
March they had either already been vaccinated or planned to do
Yet the polling indicates significant percentages of people
remain hesitant. People in the U.S. who are reluctant, skeptical or
even opposed to taking a Covid-19 vaccine cite concerns ranging
from safety to mistrust of drugmakers and the government.
"There is a real risk of people being more hesitant if they hear
about side effects, and if they hear about a side effect that leads
to a pause, " said Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for
Global Health who studies vaccine hesitancy.
Dr. Fauci said people should be reassured that authorities are
monitoring reports of potential side effects, even after
authorization of the vaccines.
On Tuesday night, government officials held a call with local
leaders and urged them to talk with members of their communities
about why authorities have recommended pausing use of J&J's
vaccine and how it is a part of efforts to ensure shots are safe,
Dr. Fauci said.
The clot issue prompted the U.S. government to suspend
administration of J&J's vaccine at its vaccination sites; many
other sites scrambled to give people scheduled for inoculation a
The FDA expects within a matter of days to decide whether and
how J&J's vaccine should be used. One option is limiting use of
the shot to certain age groups or populations, as regulators have
done with some shots for other diseases.
The longer regulators take to resolve the situation, the higher
the risk that hesitancy will increase, said Heidi Larson, an
anthropologist and director of the Vaccine Confidence Project.
"When there is uncertainty out there, people fill that space,"
she said. "It's fertile ground for misinformation."
Misinformation seizing on the blood-clot cases could exaggerate
the risks associated with the vaccines, which are extremely low,
Dr. Larson said.
Some people might end up preferring other vaccines because of
the clot issue, which could create problems; the vaccines aren't
being distributed based on preference, but rather on supply and
storage capabilities at vaccination sites, said Emily Brunson, a
medical anthropologist at Texas State University who studies
"If they felt they were getting the lesser vaccine or the
riskier one, that could further erode trust," she said.
Health experts said health authorities were right to move
quickly and the pause reflects the effectiveness of safety
protocols. Allowing reports to continue without investigation, the
experts said, would raise suspicions among people hesitant to get
"In that kind of scenario, if there's a drip-drip of news, that
hurts confidence more than a regulator that is taking a proactive
approach," said Dr. Omer said.
Now, health authorities must double down on educating the public
about the benefits of vaccination, health experts said.
Part of the message, they said, should be explaining that the
chances of getting Covid-19 are far higher than the odds of getting
the rare clots, which vaccine experts have estimated at around one
in a million.
"We need to remember how problematic Covid is, how many deaths
can come from Covid," said Dr. Walter Orenstein, associate director
of the Emory Vaccine Center. "Those risks are far greater than the
risks of this vaccine."
Brianna Abbott contributed to this article.
Write to Jared S. Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 14, 2021 15:29 ET (19:29 GMT)
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