Lotta polls on this topic are suddenly floating around. Last week one survey found that confidence in J&J’s product plummeted after the FDA temporarily advised against administering the shot, but another found that 58 percent had more confidence in COVID vaccines, generally speaking, after the pause than they did before.
Which seems counterintuitive at first blush but really isn’t. Obviously any problem identified with J&J specifically will shake public trust in that vaccine. But the fact that the FDA showed its cards, admitted the blood-clot evidence, and took the precaution of suspending J&J shots might logically have boosted public trust in the overall approval process. “They’re being transparent,” a person might say to himself. “And if they’re willing to pause J&J, the fact that Pfizer and Moderna haven’t been paused must mean they’re not finding any weird side effects from those vaccines after tens of millions of doses have been administered.”
Two new surveys out today complicate the picture. One from Ipsos finds that 88 percent of Americans who’ve heard about the pause call it a responsible decision, which is good. What’s not so good is that vaccine hesitancy seems to be stubborn following the headlines about J&J:
Somewhat worrying numbers on vaccine hesitancy from the new Axios/Ipsos poll.
56% of US adults say they've gotten at least one vaccine dose already—great!
But there aren't many Americans left who *haven't* gotten vaccinated but plan to do so. Just 14% fall into that category. pic.twitter.com/tACS5m7yFI
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 20, 2021
There is also a decline in people who say they'll let their children get vaccinated; 46% now vs. 52% from before the J&J pause. pic.twitter.com/DeQjzgo3xt
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 20, 2021
Would resistance be hardening if not for the worries about blood clots? Impossible to say, but you can imagine how that news might have kept some fencesitters who were thinking of getting vaccinated to stay on the fence.
The other new poll comes from Frank Luntz. There’s good news here too, as the share of Trump voters who say they’ll probably get vaxxed has risen from 59 percent last month to 71 percent now. And majorities of the public believe that the pause demonstrates rigorous safety monitoring and that it’s an isolated situation that says nothing about general vaccine safety. The bad news is that the minorities who disagree are substantial: 39 percent say that J&J’s problems are just the first of “many” serious side effects we’ll eventually discover and 29 percent believe that the blood-clot issue shows that all of the vaccines are “possibly unsafe, untested, and should not be taken unless you absolutely have to.” The share of those who say they’re now less likely to get vaccinated now than they were a month ago, before the J&J pause, is also conspicuously large:
That’s almost an even split. When asked about the pause itself, 76 percent said the decision didn’t make them less likely to get vaccinated — but who’s in that other 24 percent? Is it the hardcore refuseniks, who were a lost cause to begin with, or does it include fencesitters who are now going to be harder to convince?
The degree of vaccine hesitancy is such that scientists are starting to wonder if herd immunity is impossible in the United States:
What Fauci doesn’t explicitly state, but others do, is that with about a quarter of Americans saying they might not want to be immunized, herd immunity is simply not an attainable goal.
“It’s theoretically possible but we as a society have rejected that,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. “There is no eradication at this point, it’s off the table. The only thing we can talk about is control.”…
“There are going to be places, rural Idaho, for example, where you have very independent-thinking people where there may be continuing spread, because you only get up to 25% of people vaccinated,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor and infectious disease expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.
In Tennessee, Schaffner already sees a “striking” divide between the city and the country. “I’m really concerned this virus is going to continue to smolder in rural areas,” he said.
We’ll reach herd immunity eventually, presumably, as the refuseniks keep passing the virus around among themselves and acquire immunity the old-fashioned way. It’s just that it’ll happen more slowly and with a much higher body count than it needs to. And depending on how durable immunity is, whether acquired naturally or through vaccination, the herd immunity we ultimately achieve may be only temporary.
Here’s some real talk about the J&J pause, though. For all the grousing people like me have done about it in terms of its effect on vaccine hesitancy, was it the pause itself that alarmed fencesitters or the reason for the pause, namely, the small number of blood-clot cases in J&J recipients? (The CDC said yesterday that they’ve uncovered a “handful” of other possible vax-linked clotting cases since they began looking into J&J.) We can debate whether the FDA should have ordered a pause or allowed people to continue to get the J&J shot with a warning about possible side effects, but there’s no debating that the FDA had to disclose the blood-clot evidence ASAP. If they had held that information back, even briefly, while putting Americans at risk by letting them continue to get the vaccine, it would have risked a mega-scandal and potentially shattered confidence in all of the vaccines once the truth came out. “What other dirty secrets about vaccine safety is the FDA keeping from us?”
They had to show their cards about the blood clots. And once they did, I suspect, J&J’s reputation was destined to take a dive no matter what action the FDA took on it. If in fact the pause is lifted this coming weekend, as people like Fauci seem to think it will, we’ll soon have more polling data to tell us if views of Johnson & Johnson will rebound afterward or if it’ll permanently be seen as a “risky” vaccine to be avoided. Stay tuned.