Health

The public’s concerns over the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine are widespread, Post-ABC poll finds

The nationwide survey shows that slightly fewer than half of U.S. adults overall say they consider the Johnson & Johnson vaccine very or somewhat safe after its use was halted this month following reports of rare, severe blood clots.

The other two coronavirus vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States, developed by Moderna and Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, elicit significantly greater public confidence. More than 7 in 10 people say they regard each of those to be very or somewhat safe, the poll finds.

The unwillingness of about 3 in 4 unvaccinated U.S. adults to get the Johnson & Johnson shot points to hurdles facing the Biden administration and state and local public health officials in restarting use of a vaccine that was once heralded for its convenience.

Based on an assessment by a federal advisory committee that the vaccine’s benefits far exceed its risks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on Friday permitted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be administered again. It will be accompanied by a new warning on its label about the remote possibility of the dangerous blood clots, known to have formed in 15 U.S. recipients out of nearly 8 million doses given.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted April 18 to 21, before the pause was lifted.

Some leading vaccine authorities said the comparatively slender public faith in the Johnson & Johnson shot casts doubt on whether the government’s decision to halt that vaccine was in the best interest of the nation’s health, balancing the dangers of going unvaccinated against the low incidence of the brain blood clots.

“If I hear the phrase ‘abundance of caution’ one more time, I’m going to jump out of my window,” said Paul A. Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “In the name of transparency, in the name of openness, we scare people.”

The Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on the survey’s findings.

Johnson & Johnson also declined to comment. Asked about the findings, spokesman Jake Sargent sent a statement that the company’s chief scientific officer had issued Friday, when CDC advisers recommended an end to the pause, saying the advice to resume the shot’s use “is an essential step toward continuing urgently needed vaccinations in a safe way for millions of people in the U.S.”

When federal regulators authorized Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in February as the nation’s third immunization weapon against the coronavirus pandemic, its logistical and practical advantages over the two earlier vaccines were a source of optimism for helping to tamp down the pandemic in the United States and lower- and middle-income nations.

Unlike the other vaccines, it does not need to be stored frozen. And unlike the two-dose regimen of the others, it consists of a single shot, making it handy for transient and other hard-to-reach populations, including college students, people who are homeless and people living in rural areas.

But among adults who have not been immunized, the poll finds, about half say the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are safe, compared with fewer than 1 in 3 who say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe.

The poll’s evidence of lower faith in the safety of the Johnson & Johnson shot emerges as public health officials acknowledge that, four months after the start of the largest mass vaccination campaign in U.S. history, residents who remain unprotected against the coronavirus are becoming difficult to reach. The reasons include their mobility, geography or hesitancy to get an inoculation against the virus, which has infected more than 32 million people nationwide and killed in excess of 571,000.

The Post-ABC poll finds that 56 percent of U.S. adults say they had gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Of the 44 percent who remain unvaccinated against the virus, a majority say they probably will not get a shot or definitely will not do so.

Among people of different age groups and political inclinations, adults ages 18 to 39 who lean Republican are most reluctant to be inoculated against the virus, with 55 percent of them saying they definitely or probably will not get immunized, compared with 24 percent of U.S. adults overall.

But receptivity to receiving a coronavirus vaccine has increased in the past few months. About three-fourths of U.S. adults say they had already gotten at least one shot, or definitely or probably plan to get it. That compares with slightly fewer than two-thirds in a Post-ABC poll in January, in which only 3 percent said they had received a shot.

The most recent poll also finds a large decline in perceptions that the pandemic is “not at all under control,” falling from slightly more than half of U.S. adults in January, when the country was amid a post-holiday surge, to just 15 percent. Now, a 55 percent majority say they think the pandemic is only somewhat under control, while 28 percent say they think it is completely or mostly controlled.

The survey shows, too, that the nation is polarized on the question of whether people should be required to be vaccinated to carry out basic aspects of their lives, such as going to work or college, after everyone has had a chance to be immunized.

Some 45 percent of U.S. adults say they support businesses requiring vaccination for employees who go into work. Half say they support colleges and universities compelling students to get shots before being allowed on campus. More than 6 in 10 Democrats support vaccine requirements for employers and college students, while about 7 in 10 Republicans oppose them.

The poll also finds that 55 percent of Americans support their state issuing printed or digital certificates to vaccinated individuals that could be shown to businesses, employers and schools.

As the country moves out of the Johnson & Johnson pause of 10 days, attitudes about that vaccine’s safety differ sharply.

Adrian Colón, a 48-year-old commercial loan officer, has not received a shot yet because, when he last checked a few weeks ago with the Mayo Clinic near his home in Glendale, Ariz., his age group was not yet eligible. He has been careful throughout the pandemic, he said, leaving home to get groceries, pick up his two teenagers from his ex-wife with whom he shares custody and to practice a couple of times a month with a rock band in which he plays bass with other “artsy-fartsy, loner types.”

Colón figures he has been keeping himself sufficiently out of harm’s way from the virus, but he “most definitely” will get vaccinated. “I believe in science,” he said. “That’s really the bottom line.”

If the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was the one available when he got an appointment, he said, “I’d take it.” He is aware of reports of blood clots, but, at nearly 50 and male, he said, he is not in the group of child-bearing-age women who accounted for the initial six reported cases that prompted the pause.

“Any of the three [vaccines] is honestly good with me,” Colón said.

On the other hand, Catherine Young, a retired sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department, says that if she were offered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, “I would turn it down.”

Young, 62, who spends days babysitting her toddler grandson, said she plans to be vaccinated mainly “for my friends and family’s sake. A lot are stuck on, ‘You have to get the vaccine.’ ”

She assumes she has coronavirus antibodies because, in February 2020, Young and her husband were among the first wave of people in the United States to develop covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life,” Young recalled. “A few times I thought, ‘I am not going to survive this.’ ”

She did not go to a hospital and was treated by her doctor with steroids and a nebulizer. The second week she was sick, her 27-year-old daughter, one of her five children, happened to lose an IT job and move back in, bringing Young toast and urging her to eat. She was sick for about a month. The cough lingered longer.

Young and her husband have recovered. She is not in a rush to get a vaccine, wishing information was clearer about how long protection from a shot lasts and whether boosters will be needed. “I don’t know if they are as effective as they should be,” she said.

Still, she is willing to get vaccinated, but not with the Johnson & Johnson product.

“It was the blood clot thing everyone had been talking about,” Young said. “I wasn’t too keen on it.”

Whether such wariness endures “all depends on how CDC and FDA respond to this now,” said Peter Hotez, a professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. If the federal agencies “screw this up in terms of how they message, the consequences are not so devastating for the U.S.” After shortages through the winter, he said, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna doses are now plentiful enough for U.S. residents who want the shots.

But, Hotez said, “the consequence for the world would be devastating. . . . There is a huge urgency to avoid vaccine refusal in Africa, Latin American and the Middle East.”

Angela Rasmussen, a research scientist at a virology institute at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, agreed the Johnson & Johnson pause could have adverse effects in countries receiving shots through the international vaccine alliance Covax, which relies largely on that vaccine and one from AstraZeneca that also has been associated with rare clotting episodes.

“If people in those countries think, you are giving us the dangerous vaccines and keeping the better ones for [yourselves], then we just won’t get vaccinated,” Rasmussen said.

Nevertheless, she said, the pause was “a perfectly appropriate thing to do,” even if, in the end, regulators found that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks. The fact that the manufacturer reported the first several cases of clots — and that federal health officials took them seriously and alerted clinicians — should heighten public confidence that “the safeguards we have in place are working,” Rasmussen said.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone among a random national sample of 1,007 adults, with 75 percent reached on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the full sample.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.


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