Compounding the challenge, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been central to Biden officials’ strategy for inoculating skeptical and hard-to-reach populations. Unlike other authorized vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s version does not need to be stored at ultracold temperatures and, crucially, it requires only one dose.
“This is devastating,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP pollster who has been working to win over vaccine-hesitant Republicans. “At the very moment that conservatives were starting to reconsider their hesitancy, they are told that their fears are real and justified. Right now, there are thousands of people saying, ‘See, I told you so.’ ”
Biden officials were quick to minimize the impact of the pause, which was enacted as authorities reviewed reports of six U.S. cases of a rare but severe type of blood clot among the more than 7 million people who received the shot.
They noted that only a small fraction of Americans have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and stressed that the administration remains on track to meet its inoculation goals even without it, given the ample supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
“This announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination program,” Jeffrey Zients, Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said in a hastily arranged appearance in the White House briefing room Tuesday, adding that the country has “more than enough” of the other vaccines to continue the current rate of 3 million shots a day.
Later in the day, Biden added that the need for a pause reaffirmed his strategy to acquire extra doses for the federal program and to hold on to them even as pressure has built to send supply abroad.
“I made sure we have 600 million doses,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office, referring to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. “So there’s enough vaccine that is basically 100 percent unquestionable for every single, solitary American.”
But in a tacit recognition of the need to address constituencies already skeptical of the coronavirus vaccines, Biden officials fanned out talk to target audiences.
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy was booked to appear Tuesday night on TV programs run by the right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group and Gray Television to discuss the Johnson & Johnson safety review. The two news organization have programming in many local media markets.
José Montero, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, went on Univision and Telemundo to reach Latino audiences.
Members of Biden’s coronavirus response team also held a call with more than 2,300 members of their “community corps,” a group the White House has collected of “trusted messengers.” Senior administration officials briefed prominent Black physicians. Top CDC and Food and Drug Administration officials reached out to key members of Congress. And the CDC held a call with top doctors and plans to brief clinicians on their decision, the White House said.
“People are very eager to see how we react to this. Do we put the data out? Do we try to sweep it under the rug? Do we contextualize it?” said Andy Slavitt, the White House’s senior adviser for the coronavirus response. “The approach we’ve chosen to take is one that is very much fact-based, very much conversation-based and very much ‘give people the real information.’ I think that’s all you can do.”
Various groups of Americans are reluctant to take the coronavirus vaccine for different reasons.
Many African Americans remember the decades of mistreatment of Black patients at the hands of the medical profession. Some conservatives are wary of any government-sponsored push aimed at influencing Americans’ behavior. Others worry that the coronavirus vaccines were approved too quickly. Still others subscribe to unfounded conspiracy theories about the vaccines’ purpose.
Tuesday’s announcement could play into all of those anxieties, public health experts said.
“We’re very concerned that this announcement for very rare side effects could have a disproportionate impact in triggering and…