How the Johnson & Johnson Break Could Move the Needle in Vaccine Fears


Today’s announcement that federal officials have recommended discontinuing use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could hurt efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated. But – critically – that doesn’t mean federal officials shouldn’t have made the recommendation, says Melanie Kornides, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing who studies why some people are reluctant to take vaccines.

“Some people miss the message – they are so concerned about hesitation that they don’t see how important it is to address security so that people hesitate less,” she says.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the break as they examine six reports of rare blood clots in people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The specific illnesses were unusual: the patients had a rare type of blood clot in their brain and very low platelet count, a type of blood cell involved in clotting. Similar coagulation disorders were seen in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which uses the same vaccine technology as Johnson & Johnson. This combination of clots and low platelets needs a different type of treatment than normal blood clots, and the federal agencies wanted to have time to investigate the cases and tell doctors what symptoms to look out for.

“I think they did the right thing,” said Kornides. “The worst they could do would be – if they had a legitimate concern, which it seems like they did – to investigate it without notice, making it look like they were covering something.”

Still, reporting a potential safety concern to the public could make some people more reluctant to get the vaccine, Kornides says. Even if the blood clots were found to be unrelated to the vaccine or to be extremely rare, the pause can cause people to wait to get a vaccine. The main concern is for people who have already been on the fence about the shootings. Those people can now decide to wait longer to get their vaccine or be pushed to decline one.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was it shot of your choice for the group of people who were on the fence – it’s just one shot and had less common side effects. “It will introduce new fears to those people,” says Kornides.

It’s a bad time to lose ground with that group: In some states, there is already a supply of the COVID-19 vaccine began to surpass demandIn those areas, health officials and doctors are trying to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Fortunately, two other vaccines are available (the Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna shots), and these safety concerns have not been seen in the more than 100 million people who have received them. People concerned about the very rare blood clots can be persuaded to get them instead. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stressed that point during a report The White House press conference today“There are no red flag signals from that,” Fauci said.

From a messaging perspective, the pause could be communicated as a positive sign and an indication that the FDA is serious about safety. “They don’t hide anything,” says Kornides. It shows that people can trust the system to look out for any problems, even rare ones. Fauci stressed in the press conference that the investigation should be left to health officials. “You want to make sure that safety is the most important issue here,” he said. “We are fully aware that this is a very rare event. We want to work this out as quickly as possible. “

It’s a good message, even if there’s a chance it won’t win in the back and forth around the COVID-19 vaccine. People may still fear potential risks, even when they know officials are following them, Kornides says.

Ultimately, however, a personal touch can be more effective than public posts. It’s now even more important for doctors and health officials to hear each person’s individual concerns about the recordings and tailor their conversations accordingly, Kornides says. For example, if someone is concerned about the blood clots, a doctor can explain the rarity of the reaction or encourage them to use one of the other vaccine types.

The FDA and CDC must remain transparent about the study, Kornides says. The risk of growing hesitation cannot be a reason for the FDA and CDC not to explain concerns about vaccines. “They had to do this because this is how we control the safety of vaccines,” she says. “Without doing this, you cannot say it is a transparent system.”