Does J&J pause increase vaccine hesitancy?

BOSTON — There is already a population of people hesitant to take vaccines, but society needs that population to achieve herd immunity. While a small percentage of people getting blood clots halted Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer announced it can deliver 10% more doses to the U.S. and Moderna announced more than 90% efficacy after six months.

So now the question is will there be enough positive news outweighing the negative news to help people on the fence? If not, can we still achieve herd immunity?

“It’s okay to take a pause and say, ‘wait a minute, I thought this was safe and now you’re telling me that there are blood clots,’ but then we as a public health infrastructure in Massachusetts and across the country have to then answer their questions,” said Michael Curry, Esq., CEO of Mass League of Community Health Centers.

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“We have enough vaccines just in Pfizer and Moderna to get to herd immunity in this country. I think the addition of J&J, you add on the 15 million that were spoiled just a few days ago, impacted the distribution, now this recent news impact, that is going to delay us getting a herd immunity as quickly as we would have gotten there. But we’re headed there, that train is revved up, it’s leaving. It just won’t have the same speed.”

Curry said the pause in the J&J distribution over a few blood clot cases may make people more hesitant at first, but when they stop and look big picture, they should see it as a good thing.

“Concerns are not a bad thing, concern makes you inquisitive and makes you ask the right questions,” Curry said. “We should be concerned. What I would say is we shouldn’t overreact. We know that the consequences of COVID-19 on Black and brown people and poor folks is a much worse statistic than six out of 7 million.”

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“In healthy people, we see four out of a million of these types of blood clots, so this is even less frequent than that,” said Dr. Helen Boucher of Tufts Medical Center. “It was just that particular association with the low platelets that made the regulators concerned enough to do a full investigation, but I think that tells us just how safe our vaccines are really. I really hope that this won’t increase vaccine hesitancy. This is a great example of all the safety measures that we have in place really working.”

Curry said it was important for Moderna and Pfizer to set the record straight with their vaccines today, not to take a shot at J&J, but to combat any potential fake narratives that they have issues as well. He acknowledges, although he has not lost trust after a hiccup along the J&J train, members of the general public might have.

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“Whenever you talk about clinical trials and you’re talking about new drugs new treatments, there’s going to be evolving data. So I think no one should be surprised,” Curry said.

“We should be solving for that one in a million who is getting a blood clot so that we can even prevent that rare circumstance. If you are hesitant already, you’re even more hesitant now that you’ve heard that there’s this rare condition of a blood clot. We then address your concerns and then you’re back on that same train and that same line to get the vaccine when your questions get answered.”

He said there is only one way to continue building that trust.

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“This is not new,” Curry said. “We just got to be prepared to be transparent, to be honest, and to make sure that we’re ready with information in hand when they ask for it. That’s public health, right? And I think we just need to stick to the script.”

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