Our hearts sank on word Tuesday that officials at the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, zealously guarding their reputations as the most careful and protective regulatory agencies in the world, were recommending a pause in the safe, easy-to-store, proven-to-be-effective, one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, after doctors recorded six, count ‘em, instances of people developing blood clots after getting the shot.
The episodes of “thrombotic thrombocytopenia,” or blood clots combined with a drop in blood platelet counts, add up to the tiniest fraction of 6.85 million J&J doses in the U.S. Do the math, and you get less than .0001 percent risk of this complication. The danger is that the pause will fuel the remaining embers of vaccine hesitancy.
Though skeptics are dwindling as the months pass, 37 percent of Americans said in late March they were either waiting to get the vaccine, or definitely wouldn’t roll up their sleeves. In New York City, health officials will temporarily lose the convenience of the one-dose vaccine, which is easier to give to homeless people, transients and homebound seniors.
Preventing that requires clear and persistent and pervasive public education about what the pause is, an extreme measure taken out of excessive caution, and what it’s not, a meaningful mark against the vaccine.
Fortunately for the U.S., a “pause” in J&J shots, which Dr. Tony Fauci told Americans Tuesday would probably last days or weeks, not months, need not mean a slowdown in shot-giving. Of the 120 million Americans who’ve gotten at least one shot of vaccine, the vast majority have received doses from Pfizer or Moderna, which both made their shots with newfangled mRNA technology, not live virus, the way J&J was created. On Tuesday alone, states received 9.4 million doses of Pfizer and 6.95 million doses of Moderna vaccines, with many more on the way.
America’s doing a heck of a lot better job quickly vaccinating its people than most of the other wealthy countries of the world. Keep it up.