The average share of the US population receiving Covid-19 vaccinations reached its peak on April 13. On that same day, the FDA and CDC announced a 10-day pause in distributing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in order to study its connection to rare blood clots in women. Vaccination rates fell sharply; when the pause ended, they continued to decline.
While medical professionals and public health experts would have preferred that vaccination rates bounced back quickly with the J&J vaccine’s reintroduction, the fact that they haven’t still serves to teach us valuable lessons about Americans’ attitudes toward vaccines, the scope of the ongoing problems we will be facing, and what it will take to protect us long-term:
It was never just about J&J.
Pausing J&J vaccine distribution accounted for the bulk of the drop-off during the first 10 days of decline, but Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations began trending downward at the same time. This indicates that even though the public understands that all 3 vaccines in use in the US are distinct, questions about any one of those vaccines can and will negatively affect adoption across the entire category.
Demand is now the limiting factor, not supply.
Even without the pause, most experts agree that some amount of vaccination slowdown was inevitable as more and more eager vaccine-seekers received their first doses. The logistical challenge of getting shots into arms was the largest hurdle in Q1, but vaccination success in Q2 and beyond will be defined by the ability to convince late-adopters that vaccines are safe and effective, which is shaping up to be a significant undertaking.
Trust is fragile.
For many, vaccines are a scary proposition. Potential side-effects (however benign), the absence of longitudinal safety data, and the unfortunate prevalence of anti-vaccine sentiment all serve to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and perceived risk in large segments of the population. Against that backdrop, anything that calls vaccine safety into question has the potential to send ripples of doubt throughout the portions of the population most in need of assurance -- and the data suggests that repairing that trust will take a long time.
Testing remains crucial.
The seemingly long-term effects of the J&J vaccine’s short-term pause indicate just how much of an uphill battle it will be to convince a large portion of the as-yet unvaccinated population to get their shots. Even the best-case scenarios require both significant outreach and ongoing good luck in terms of real or perceived complications, which simply takes time. While that’s taking place, though, it’s incumbent upon everyone to focus on making the new normal as safe as possible using all available proactive measures to stay ahead of any potential outbreaks. Robust, flexible, on-demand COVID-19 testing is a vital complement to our nation’s ongoing vaccination efforts. It protects us, it gives us confidence, and it buys us time.
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