J&J Pause Did Not Upend Vaccine Confidence: Poll

Damian McNamara

April 20, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The recommended pause on April 13 in the rollout of the Janssen/Johnson and Johnson vaccine has not substantially deflated confidence in COVID-19 immunization, a new poll reveals.

In fact, 76% of 1000 registered voters surveyed nationwide said the pause didn't decrease the likelihood that they would get vaccinated. In addition, among those already vaccinated, 87% said they would "definitely" decide to get vaccinated again.

The survey also indicates that the perception gap regarding vaccines is narrowing between Republicans and Democrats. For example, 60% of Trump voters and 72% of Biden voters agreed with this statement: "The bottom line is COVID-19 vaccines save lives, and Americans should continue to get vaccinated as soon as possible."

"I am pleasantly surprised," Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, told Medscape Medical News when asked to comment.

"We in the vaccine community understand that these rare adverse events are concerning and scary. Thus, it is a credit to the [US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)], who clearly communicated the reason for the pause, and the very low risk of these events," said Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

"I also credit the media for the fair and objective coverage of the incident," she added.

The survey was conducted April 15-16 by Frank Luntz, PhD, for the de Beaumont Foundation. The CDC and FDA recommended the pause in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine rollout after initial reports of rare blood clots arising in six women.  

Just under two-thirds of respondents, 61%, believe the vaccines are safe and effective. This sentiment was shared by 60% of Trump voters and 66% of Biden voters.

However, more than three in 10 respondents, 32%, indicated they would never get a Johnson and Johnson vaccine specifically. The breakdown was 44% of Trump voters and 18% of Biden voters.

"These results do not surprise me," James McDeavitt, MD, told Medscape Medical News when asked for his overall impression of the poll findings. "There appears to be a relatively small portion of the population that is 'hard-core' opposed to vaccines and are unlikely to change their minds."

Hesitancy among most people varies by a variety of demographic factors, including ethnic background, socioeconomic status, urban versus rural communities, and political affiliation, said McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

"As we get more and more experience with very large numbers of people vaccinated, it is clear all groups are becoming more comfortable," he added.

Physicians Play a Leading Role

"Americans recognize the Johnson and Johnson vaccine pause for what it is — a clear sign that our safety protocols are working the way they're supposed to," Brian C. Castrucci, DrPH, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, said in a news release. "Government officials must continue to be transparent and to use clear, consistent language about the vaccines."

"The communication efforts, for the most part, are working," Luntz added in the news release. "But to reach the more hesitant populations, it's going to take doctors and public health leaders, not politicians."

Neuzil agreed that healthcare workers will be key to reaching the more hesitant populations. "Research on other vaccines, including influenza vaccines in adults, indicate[s] that a strong recommendation from a trusted health care provider can overcome vaccine hesitancy," she said.

An Isolated Event?

The pollsters also asked if, given the decision to pause the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, people think there will be more serious side effects from all the COVID-19 vaccines.

A majority, 61%, believed the pause was an isolated event. In contrast, 39% believed that "this is the first of many serious side effects we will hear about."

The pollsters also asked, given the recommended pause, what people should do next.

A total of 63% replied that individuals should continue to get vaccinated as soon as possible with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Another 37% advised people to wait to get vaccinated until more information is known about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine side effects.

Pollsters also inquired about how people perceived the pause decision.

In this instance, 53% believed it was a good example of the rigorous safety monitoring of the COVID-19 vaccines in place to protect Americans. Another 29% felt this was a good example of why the COVID-19 vaccines are possibly unsafe, untested, and should not be taken unless you absolutely have to. The remaining respondents were ambivalent, choosing "it really doesn't matter to me."

"I am encouraged that the public is much smarter than some people assume," McDeavitt said. "People are not overreacting to the [Johnson and Johnson] news — but weighing a lot of factors."

"As we get more experience, as people see friends and family vaccinated, and as the benefit of vaccines become[s] increasingly apparent, we will see hesitancy fade," he predicted.

The poll features a margin of error of plus/minus 3%. The 1000 respondents included an oversampling of voters ages 18 to 34 to reflect voter turnout demographics in the 2020 presidential election.

The poll is the fourth in a series of national polls aimed at "Changing the COVID Conversation." The surveys are designed to guide more effective public health messaging during the pandemic among diverse populations, including Black Americans, Latinx communities, Republicans, rural residents, and others.

Neuzil and McDeavitt disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology, and critical care. Follow Damian on Twitter: @MedReporter.

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