Wednesday, May 12, 2021

in-focus

Public health experts increase vaccine education during Johnson & Johnson pause


A day after federal agencies recommended a pause in administration of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine while they investigate potential rare side effects, public health experts and providers in the Washington region on Wednesday said they are increasing education and transparency to allay potential worries among people about coronavirus vaccines.

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Community leaders and those in charge of vaccinating vulnerable populations said that the pause does not appear to have immediately deterred people who want to be vaccinated or have upcoming vaccine appointments.

"My concern is the people who were already not planning to get the vaccine will latch on to this as further justification just for why they shouldn't get it," said Leana Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner, emergency physician and Washington Post contributing columnists.

Federal officials recommended the nationwide pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while they review a rare type of blood clot known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in conjunction with thrombocytopenia, or low blood platelets, developed in six women who had received that vaccine. One such woman from Virginia died.

Public health officials say the pause is proof that the adverse effect reporting system is working properly and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration are taking even extremely rare side effects seriously.

The District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia stopped administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine within hours of the federal recommendation, as clinics that were prepared to give that vaccine quickly switched to the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna versions. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was particularly useful for people experiencing homelessness and for transient populations who may have trouble returning for a second dose.

Mark Whitlock, senior pastor at Reid Temple AME, which partnered with Luminis Health Doctors Community Medical Center to host vaccine clinics for Prince George's County, Md., residents, said one congregant contacted him Tuesday with concerns about the Johnson & Johnson pause.

"She and I had prayed, and I assured her that we had Pfizer and Moderna," he said. "I am very concerned about the safety of the membership of Reid Temple. I am celebrating the fact that they did take it off the market."

Vaccine supply and access - not hesitancy - remains his biggest concern in Prince George's, one of the region's communities hit hardest by the coronavirus, which can cause the illness covid-19.

The long-term impact of the pause will depend on what investigators discover and how they communicate findings to the public, experts said.

"If we can't confidently have the American public believe and trust in the safety and efficacy of vaccines, that could undermine the entire effort," Danny Avula, Virginia's vaccine coordinator, told reporters Tuesday.

But he said the incidence of six cases among the millions of doses administrated is "exceedingly rare for a serious side effect."

About 31 million people, or 10% of the American, population has contracted the novel coronavirus; of that number, one out of 585 people died of the disease, he said.

"In relative terms, these are really low rates of incidence," he said of the six cases. "All of this is like a big risk-benefit calculation," he said.

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The Washington Post's Erin Cox contributed to this report.

Published : April 15, 2021

By : Jenna Portnoy The Washington Post