Senior U.S. health officials tried to reassure Americans on Sunday that the 10-day hiatus in using Johnson & Johnson's vaccine showed how well the safety surveillance for the Covid-19 vaccines was working, and shouldn't help some Americans are reluctant to be shot.
"What we are going to see, and we are likely to see soon, is that people are going to realize that we take safety very seriously," said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the President's top medical advisor on coronavirus, during an interview on ABC News This Week.
"We are out there trying to combat the level of vaccine hesitation that is still out there," said Dr. Fauci. "And one of the real reasons people hesitate is because of concerns about the safety of the vaccine."
What You Need To Know About The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Break In The United States
- On April 23, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to lift a hiatus on Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine and put a label on an extremely rare but potentially dangerous bleeding disorder.
- Federal health officials are expected to officially recommend states lift the hiatus.
- The vaccine was recently discontinued after reports of a rare bleeding disorder surfaced in six women who received the vaccine.
- The overall risk of developing the disorder is extremely low. Women between the ages of 30 and 39 appear to be most at risk, with 11.8 cases per million doses. There were seven cases per million doses in women between 18 and 49 years of age.
- Almost eight million doses of the vaccine have now been given. There was less than one case per million doses in men and women aged 50 and over.
- Johnson & Johnson had also decided to postpone the launch of its vaccine in Europe for similar reasons, but later decided to continue its campaign after the European Union Medicines Agency announced the addition of a warning. South Africa, devastated by a contagious variant of the virus found there, also stopped using the vaccine but later continued to use it.
On Friday, federal officials lifted a hiatus recommended on April 13 for use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as some cases of a rare bleeding disorder had occurred, mostly in younger women. As of Friday, experts had identified 15 cases, including three deaths that were due to the extremely unusual clotting problem. A warning about the risk for the malfunction will be included for the company's product.
Public health experts have raised concerns that Johnson & Johnson's hiatus was particularly worrying as many states rely on single-dose to expand vaccinations to hard-to-reach rural areas, and those at home, homeless, and on the College campuses were.
Some officials also feared the break would dampen vaccination rates, which are already falling in the country. The government aims to vaccinate most adult Americans by the summer.
In NBC's Meet the Press program, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, raised the risk of a blood clot from the vaccine – less than 1 in 500,000 – with the risk of aspirin causing significant intestinal bleeding among people who take aspirin regularly.
"We're talking about something that is about a thousand times less likely," said Dr. Collins. "But we Americans are not that good at this kind of risk calculation."
Many states have already announced that they will resume use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Almost 8 million people had received it before the break, and about 10 million cans were on the shelves across the country waiting to be dispensed.
Overall, more than 50 percent of adult Americans received at least one shot among the three vaccines available, said Dr. Fauci.
Both Dr. Fauci and Dr. Collins said it was critical that a high percentage of Americans be vaccinated to end the pandemic. "The more people you vaccinate, the more people you protect," said Dr. Fauci. "When you vaccinate a critical number of people, you really have comprehensive protection for the entire community."
Dr. Collins said the scientists knew the exact percentage of people with immunity, neither from the vaccine nor from antibodies generated by surviving a fight with the virus, that would be required to achieve herd immunity, especially as the coronavirus is on the rise Mutating new variants can be more contagious.
"But it's around 70, 85 percent up there," he said. "And we're not there yet."
He said that having a full vaccination was liberating.
"My wife and I were able to invite another couple to come over to our home for dinner and remove our masks as they were also vaccinated, had a normal conversation and hugged at the end of the evening," said Dr. Collins. “That was so liberating. If you aren't vaccinated, you are missing out on the chance to lift the fear that was there. "
When asked about calls to reduce restrictions on wearing masks outdoors, Dr. Fauci that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may revise their recommendations soon. "I think it's pretty normal for the risk to be really, really small outdoors," said Dr. Fauci. "I mean, if you're a vaccinated person and you're wearing a mask outdoors, the risk is obviously tiny."