Addressing Vaccine Hesitancy: Why We Need COVID-19 Vaccines

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccine hesitancy refers to “a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccine services.” Vaccine hesitancy can be influenced by a number of factors, including complacency, convenience, and, most importantly, confidence. 

A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in late March 2021 found that 37% of Americans would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, would get one only if required, or would wait and see before deciding to get vaccinated. 

A substantial number of people who refuse to be vaccinated poses a risk to us all — without widespread vaccination adherence on a global scale, the virus will continue to spread and mutate

Doctor holding a vaccine

WHY IS VACCINATION IMPORTANT?

Widespread COVID-19 vaccination is an important tool to help end the pandemic. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to be infected with COVID-19 and potentially less likely to spread the virus to others. 

Not only does vaccination prevent you from getting seriously ill, it also allows you to: 

  • Gather with vaccinated family and friends
  • Reduce the burden of quarantining and testing after exposure to the virus or after traveling

WHY DISTRIBUTION OF THE JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE WAS PAUSED

On April 13, 2021, federal health agencies recommended an immediate pause on use of the Johnson & Johnson single dose-coronavirus vaccine. The temporary suspension came after six initial reported recipients in the United States developed cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, a rare disorder involving blood clots, within two weeks of receiving the vaccine. Out of an abundance of caution, the federal government temporarily paused vaccine administration at all federally run vaccination sites — a move that prompted more than two dozen states to halt vaccinations.

During the pause, interim analysis showed that a total of 15 recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had experienced this adverse clotting event. Nearly 7.98 million people in the U.S. have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of April 2021, making the reported cases of adverse reactions extremely rare. 

Scientists from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) met to study possible links between the vaccine and the clotting disorder to determine whether or not the FDA should limit the use of the vaccine. 

The CDC reconvened an emergency meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on April 23 to discuss next steps and review data of the rare blood clots. Officials recommended that use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine resume in the U.S. and that the product insert include information about a rare risk of blood clots in recipients. 

VACCINES ARE SAFE AND EFFECTIVE

This temporary pause was a testament to the rigorous safety reviews built into the ongoing vaccine rollout. Rest assured that the system is working as it should —  careful monitoring and following of protocols is key to vaccine development. Pauses are common in all clinical trials and allow regulators to determine whether any medical issues are a matter of coincidence. Pausing use of the vaccine also allowed officials to potentially write new guidance about who should or should not receive it. By pausing inoculations, federal health officials were ultimately doing their job: safeguarding the health and safety of millions. 

That said, the consensus of the advisory committee was that the benefits of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-related ICU admissions and deaths far outweighs the risks.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE JOHNSON & JOHNSON VACCINE

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses an adenovirus, which is a type of virus that causes the common cold. This viral vector is weakened so that it cannot replicate but instead carries the genetic material via double-stranded DNA to produce the coronavirus’ spike protein. The vaccine does not alter or change a patient’s DNA and will not cause any recipient to contract COVID-19. Consequently, the spike protein produces an immune response, enabling your body to fight off any future infections caused by the novel coronavirus. Adenovirus vectors are well studied and have a substantial amount of long-term safety data because they have been utilized for several other vaccines such as RSV and Ebola. 

Although scientists were able to develop the COVID-19 vaccine quickly, all of the same rigorous steps were taken. Simultaneous clinical trials assessed both the safety and immune responses of each vaccine, and the government had already created an infrastructure that allowed the U.S. to produce massive amounts of vaccine doses even before Phase 3 clinical trial findings became available. This sped up the development of the vaccine without cutting steps or jeopardizing the safety of trial participants.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has appealed to many people eligible for vaccination because of its convenient, one-shot approach. The single-shot dose also makes it easier to reach vulnerable communities. From an operational standpoint, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures for three months and also allows states to slash costs related to staffing and storing that are required for distributing second doses. 

WE CAN’T PLAY FAVORITES WHEN IT COMES TO VACCINES

The three vaccines that have been approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the U.S. are the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. All three vaccines have demonstrated effectiveness at preventing serious disease, hospitalizations, and death due to COVID-19. 

It’s important to remember that we can’t make direct comparisons between vaccines. In order to hold one vaccine up against another, they would need to have been studied in the same trial, with the same inclusion criteria, in the same parts of the world, and at the same time. 

Efficacy rates matter, but they don’t tell the whole story — that number is only representative of what happened under the circumstances of  each individual clinical trial. The main objective of any COVID-19 vaccine is to protect against severe symptoms and to remove the possibility of being hospitalized or dying. 

The CDC maintains that the three COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the United States are safe, effective, and reduce the risk of severe COVID. 

Interested in learning more about COVID-19 vaccines? Check out our webinar to better understand each vaccine and their efficacies, the role vaccines play in herd immunity, how to manage common side effects, and more. 

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