by Kate Diuguid ‘22
When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout for Covid-19 was put on pause, some Americans were sent into a frenzy of questioning the safety of the vaccines. Much of the public already had doubts about the Covid-19 vaccines, citing the quick production time as evidence of malpractice. The FDA and CDC lifted the recommended pause following a safety review on April 23, but fewer than one in four Americans not yet vaccinated against the coronavirus say they would be willing to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (The Washington Post).
Distrust of the vaccines has major consequences like halting herd immunity. The pausing of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a result of six recipients experiencing blood clots will cost more lives than it will save.
Per 1 million patients who take hormonal birth control pills, about 50-1,200 will experience blood clotting, meaning it has about a 0.05-0.12 percent blood clotting chance. For every 1 million cigarette smokers there will be about 1,763 cases of blood clotting, meaning there’s a 0.18 percent risk. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had six cases in 6.8 million doses, meaning the risk of blood clots from their vaccine is only 0.000088 percent. Millions of women take birth control every single day, having been warned of the relatively high blood clotting risks, but in their case, the risk is a necessary tradeoff for the benefits.
For those infected with Covid-19, there is a 16.5 percent chance of experiencing extreme blood clotting. Comparing that to the 0.000088 percent chance of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine seems like there’s almost no comparison to be made. It is a necessary risk to take in order to prevent infection, which is far more likely to lead to blood clotting or other severe side effects.
Pausing the vaccine rollout for such a small chance of blood clotting could drive those who were on the fence about the safety of the vaccines further away. This could very well cause the loss of more lives to Covid-19 that might have been saved by the vaccine. “We are concerned about heightened reservations about the J&J vaccine, but in addition to that, those reservations could spill over into public concerns about other vaccines,” said Dr. Paul Simon, the chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The New York Times noted that scores of vaccine appointments were cancelled in the weeks following the pause announcement.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine plays a critical role in the vaccine rollout as it only requires one dose. Many young or elderly people who need assistance getting around might run into issues when required to return to a vaccination site three or four weeks after their first dose. For many, the convenience of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a major support for getting the Covid vaccine at all.
Putting the vaccine on pause could have prevented Americans from receiving the vaccine by way of losing their trust, validating doubts, and taking away the only viable option for some. No doubt that the decision was made for the good of the people; however, the pause might prove troublesome, or even fatal.