Many people who live in rural and other areas canceled appointments during the temporary pause last month, and many of them haven’t rescheduled, vaccination sites said. Meantime, some people hesitant to get inoculated told pollsters after the J&J halt they were less likely to take a shot.
The aftereffects threaten to set back efforts to vaccinate enough people to achieve communitywide immunity and drop many pandemic precautions, allowing for a return to more-normal life.
More than four months into the vaccination campaign, many of the people willing to get vaccinated have done so, according to health officials. Safety concerns raised by the pause have discouraged some people who told pollsters they were open to taking a vaccine but wanted to wait and see.
“There is a portion of the population that because of the pause, that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, they’re not going to get vaccinated. They just evaporated,” said
executive vice president of pharmacy at AdhereHealth LLC, a health-technology company that has been operating sites in more hesitant and hard-to-reach populations.
Some state health officials expressed hope, however, that the concerns would fade over time.
Health authorities had looked forward to J&J’s shot partly because its convenient storage requirements and single dose made it easier to give in rural and other areas that lack many of the special freezers needed to store the other vaccines, and to people who didn’t want to have to return for a second dose.
In late February, the J&J vaccine became the third to be authorized for use in the U.S.
As supplies were beginning to increase last month, however, federal health officials recommended pausing use of the J&J shot while they investigated reports of a rare blood-clotting condition. The officials later lifted the advisory, saying the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks while alerting doctors who encountered patients to the proper treatment.
A spokesman for J&J said safety is the company’s top priority and its Covid-19 vaccine prevents hospitalization and death, including against viral variants.
Vibrant Health, which operates in the Kansas City area, recruited 75 people before the pause to take J&J’s shot at a local church, said Chief Executive Patrick Sallee. “The convenience of the J&J shot was swinging people from being indecisive or skeptical into taking it,” he said.
When the J&J pause hit, Vibrant told the registered people it would give them Moderna’s vaccine, but most canceled, Mr. Sallee said. He said 14 of the 75 ultimately decided to get vaccinated.
Likewise, AdhereHealth Chief Executive
said after switching to the two-dose
vaccine from J&J’s, the company ended up vaccinating hundreds of people in the farming areas around Hartsville, Tenn., rather than the thousands it had anticipated.
People said they couldn’t afford to visit AdhereHealth’s vaccination site twice or no longer wanted a shot at all, Mr. Rose said. AdhereHealth continues to see cancellations since the pause was lifted. On a recent day in rural North Carolina, 10 of the 185 people who had signed up before the pause showed up for their shot, Mr. Rose said.
“We know that people’s top concern about the vaccines is that they might experience serious side effects,” said Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at Kaiser Family Foundation. “If the public perceives these blood clots as a side effect, it does have the potential to make people sit on the fence longer.”
In March, 17% of 1,862 adults surveyed by Kaiser said they were waiting to see whether to get vaccinated. Of those, 16% said they would definitely get J&J’s vaccine, compared with 8% who said they planned to get Pfizer’s and 7% who said they would take Moderna’s.
Of 2,097 unvaccinated U.S. adults the nonprofit foundation surveyed during and after the J&J vaccine pause last month, however, some 16% said it caused them to rethink how and if they will get vaccinated. Those surveyed, especially women, expressed concerns about potential side effects of all shots, the survey found.
Jennie Shukis, a 38-year-old insurance agent from Ledyard, Conn., said the J&J news added to her concerns about the efficacy and safety of all vaccines. She said she prefers to not get vaccinated, though she is still weighing the matter.
“It just seems like every day you see something else. It just makes it scary,” she said. “Is it going to help? Is it going to make it worse? Is it even going to make a difference?”
Health officials in Alabama and Louisiana—two states with some of the country’s lower shares of fully vaccinated people—said they have been fielding many questions from people worried about taking the shots.
“They can’t just hear about safety one time,” said Alabama assistant state health officer Karen Landers. “They can’t just hear about effectiveness. They need to have their own individual questions answered.”
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Kimberly Hood, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Health’s office of public health, said some people are calling to ask for the J&J vaccine, while others are saying they are thinking about getting it. “We can sometimes underestimate how thoughtful people can be about their decisions and what can look reactionary can sometimes just be people taking their time and thinking,” she said.
Social-media monitoring platform Zignal Labs Inc. said mentions of the rare adverse event have dropped online.
Write to Julie Wernau at [email protected]
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