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Confidence is key issue with Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Alexander Nazaryan
·National Correspondent
·3 min read
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said on Tuesday that it had plenty of doses of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines, making assurances just hours after many states stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over concerns of blood clotting.

“We have plenty of supply,” said White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, calling the remaining two vaccines now in the nation’s arsenal “clearly safe.”

Jeff Zients, the White House's Covid-19 response czar, speaks during a press briefing at the White House where they spoke about a pause in issuing the Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine on April 13, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Zients vowed that the administration was committed to reaching 200 million vaccinations by Biden’s 100th day in office, which comes at the end of April. Earlier, in a White House statement, Zients noted that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine constituted only 5 percent of all vaccinations in the U.S., with Pfizer and Moderna accounting for the rest.

Johnson & Johnson has proved to be something of a thorn in the Biden administration’s side. First, there were questions about the vaccine’s efficacy, though it is, in fact, nearly as good at preventing serious or critical illness as its rivals. Then, faulty manufacturing at a Johnson & Johnson plant in Baltimore led to 15 million doses being discarded.

Tuesday’s development was the most challenging. Even though the reports of blood clotting were found only in six women out of 6.8 million shots administered, one of those women died. But risk perception can be difficult to manage, and the mere suggestion of serious side effects could be enough to scare people away from getting vaccinated.

At the White House press briefing, Zients and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said they had received notice Monday night that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the Food and Drug Administration, would recommend Tuesday morning that states pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the issue is studied.

(L-R) White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci brief reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on April 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Jeff Zients and Dr. Anthony Fauci brief reporters on Tuesday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Fauci and Zients strove to point out that for all its impatience on the vaccination front, the White House exerted no pressure regarding that guidance. Some have criticized the recommendation to pause the vaccine, given the rarity of clotting complications.

“We’re ruled by the science,” Fauci said, “not by any other consideration.” That was a clear reference to his former boss, Donald Trump.

But science can be as contentious and unruly as politics. A similar scenario took place in Europe, with reports of blood clots following the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine there. Several nations then temporarily stopped using that vaccine, though the European Medicines Agency said the comparative risks were such that the coronavirus should be a greater concern than a small number of cases of blood clots.

It’s impossible to predict whether people will be reassured or frightened by the Johnson & Johnson pause. Trump sought to inject himself into the debate, blasting President Biden for the pause and urging him to “get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine back online quickly.”

White House officials are unlikely to take up the feud. Instead, they are laboring to convince the American public that the potentially alarming headlines about Johnson & Johnson won’t set back vaccination plans.

Vials labelled
COVID-19 vaccines. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Fauci noted that of the more than 100 million people who have received at least one dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines (which, unlike their Johnson & Johnson counterpart, require two doses), no “negative red-flag symbols” had been reported.

“That tells you you’re dealing with a really safe vaccine,” Fauci said.

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