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How might pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine alter vaccine rollout in the U.S?

This article was published on
April 14, 2021

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SciLine reaches out to our network of scientific experts and poses commonly asked questions about newsworthy topics. Reporters can use these responses in news stories, with attribution to the expert.

SciLine reaches out to our network of scientific experts and poses commonly asked questions about newsworthy topics. Reporters can use these responses in news stories, with attribution to the expert.

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Expert Comments: 

Dave O’Connor, PhD

There are two linked concerns. First, pausing the rollout reduces the number of shots in arms. In a race against variants that is unrelenting, any slowdown in vaccination is a cause for concern. On the one hand, we should be extraordinarily grateful that there are three options available in the US currently. On the other hand, our ability to reduce the risk of severe disease is critically dependent on getting people of all ages vaccinated as quickly as possible.

The second concern is that people who are on the fence about getting vaccinated and are skittish about side effects might be more reluctant to be vaccinated with any of the vaccines. Some communities with a high level of vaccine enthusiasm are well on their way to having most people vaccinated. In Dane County, Wisconsin where I live, for example, more than 50% of people will have received at least one vaccine dose by the end of the week. Among those with high enthusiasm, this news is unlikely to deter many from getting vaccinated. Other counties in Wisconsin have just over 20% with one vaccine dose. In communities with a lot of hesitancy towards vaccines already, this pause is likely going to make the hard job of convincing people to get vaccinated even harder. Already, misinformation about vaccines (such as vaccines causing infertility) is rampant on social media. When news of this pause is weaponized into misinformation, it will likely create new barriers to vaccination.

Beth Kirkpatrick, MD

If this is a short term pause of only a few days, it should not significantly alter the roll out.

Darryl Falzarano, PhD

It will certainly impede the speed of the vaccine rollout in the US, but the availability of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will still allow reasonable progress to be made. Based on projected numbers, the delay in the Johnson & Johnson rollout may reduce the available number of vaccines in the US by one third to one half in the near term. But perhaps the impact will be more substantial in other countries where access to mRNA vaccines is much lower. Vaccination is required globally, and until sufficient levels of vaccination are achieved worldwide, there will still be substantial impacts due to SARS-CoV-2. This is why other vaccines that have positive data need to be made available as soon as possible – the vaccine from Novavax for example—and why it was so important to pursue multiple vaccines right from the start of the pandemic.

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