‘It’s concerning’: Vaccinators face mistrust of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, offer options

MADISON, Wis. – Now that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will once again be an option, vaccinators face another hurdle.

Providers are preparing to continue the one-shot vaccine’s use after a federal review prompted by six cases of rare blood clots. That number grew to 15 reported cases, all women, as of Friday, after after 8 million doses were administered nationally. A California man also recently developed a rare blood clot within two weeks of getting the Johnson & Johnson shot.

There are some signs the news led to increased hesitancy surrounding the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

A recent ABC News and Washington Post poll of about 1,000 Americans shows fewer than half said they consider the Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe. Of those who had yet to be vaccinated, 73% said they were unwilling to accept a Johnson & Johnson shot.

“I think these hurdles can be pretty big actually,” said Dr. Bill Hartman, the lead of the AstraZeneca vaccine clinical trial at UW-Health. “The fact that people are distrustful of it is concerning because it is a very good vaccine, overall a very safe vaccine, and it’s easily transported.”

“Now it’s on us as vaccinators to spread information, answer questions and educate the public,” said Mo Kharbat, regional vice president of pharmacy services at SSM Health, which plans to resume use of the Johnson & Johnson shot Thursday.

Kharbat pointed to the fact that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has now been thoroughly reviewed by the CDC and FDA twice.

“It went through a pretty tough vetting process in the last two weeks with lots of experts, lots of scientists, lots of doctors looking at it to make sure it was safe and the benefits truly do outweigh the small risks,” Hartman said.

Beyond information from health experts, normal conversations about the vaccines can help overcome barriers to trust.

“It has to come from conversations people have with each other and they’ve had the vaccine and know it was safe for them,” Hartman said.

The ABC News and Washington Post poll also showed that intent to get a vaccine in general has risen since January. Vaccinators stress the importance of options, letting people choose between Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which is more possible now that supply can meet demand.

“All three vaccines are really good options and all have been proven to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and severe illness from COVID-19,” said Samroz Jakvani, an epidemiologist with the Jefferson County Health Department. “If it helps us get even a single person vaccinated, to provide that option, we’ll do that.”

Jakvani said since the rare clots are most likely to impact women between the ages of 18 and 50, they may want to consider the other two options which haven’t been associated with such effects. Kharbat encouraged women questioning whether they should take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to talk with their health care provider.

“We want them to know the risk exists,” Kharbat. “Yes it’s very rare, but the risk does exist.”

“Make the decision that’s best for yourself and that you’re most comfortable with, but of course understanding that getting vaccinated is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your family and the community,” Jakvani said.

Despite some hesitancy, vaccinators said there’s still plenty of interest in the one-shot vaccine and its benefits.

“We’ve heard from some patients who have said we don’t want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Kharbat said. “We also heard from some patients who said that’s what we want, we want the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services recently began using VaccineFinder to help people find vaccine appointments. The site allows users to search by vaccine type.