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How Johnson & Johnson Pause Builds Faith in Vaccine Rollout

April 19, 2021

While only six out of 7 million women suffered from blood clots after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the decision to pause its use could fuel more vaccine hesitancy and potentially impact herd immunity.

“The pause in Johnson & Johnson vaccine use is occurring because we want all those we care for in our communities to have faith in the vaccine process,” said Dr. William Horgan, Medical Director of Quality and Safety for Hartford HealthCare’s East Region. “This is the type of transparency that builds trust over time because we are taking all reactions to the vaccine seriously and continuously investigating its safety.

“Although the rates of blood clot formation is lower in the vaccine recipients then in the general public, we are still doing our due diligence to assure that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe for our friends and family members.”

“Ethically, we have to be open with people about such potential related symptoms, even knowing the revelation can work against public health efforts to promote the vaccine,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, director of infectious diseases and epidemiology for Hartford HealthCare.

While he agrees with the recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food & Drug Administration to pause use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to investigate the handful of cerebral venous thrombosis cases in vaccinated women, Dr. Wu said the vaccines are safe and the only way to end the pandemic.

His scientist’s mind turns to the numbers for validation. For every 1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine put into arms across the country, he said only one woman reported blood clotting issues. Typically, such venous complications occur in about 14 women per million anyway, he added.

“Is this related to the vaccine or not? That’s what we’re going to try to determine going forward,” Dr. Wu said. “There’s still a lot of science to be done, but we do know that the vaccine, overall, is safe.”

While the nation presses ahead with aggressive vaccination efforts, however, he acknowledged that this news could fuel vaccine hesitancy and, ultimately, prevent development of herd immunity against the lethal virus.

To anyone reluctant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Wu said: “The occurrence of such reactions is extremely rare, and the potential risk from getting COVID itself remains far greater than any risk from the vaccine.”

Dr. Horgan is helping to spread vaccine information as part of the state Department of Public Health’s “Trusted Messenger” program. Similar to a “train the trainer “ initiative, Horgan is working with the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut to reach underserved populations who might be hesitant to get vaccinated. The grassroots effort is designed to equip community leaders who are positioned to mobilize their communities with timely information on the vaccine rollout and messaging for communities of color and those facing significant access challenges.