J&J vaccine investigation could increase ongoing vaccine hesitancy local public health officials say

J&J vaccine investigation could impact ongoing vaccine hesitancy local public health officials say

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Even though over 900,000 Louisianans have completed COVID-19 vaccines, public health officials say the pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to impact vaccine hesitancy that is already evident in the state.

Dr. Shantel Hébert-Magee is the Louisiana Department of Health’s Medical Director for Region 1. Region 1 includes Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes.

“I think we are definitely concerned about hesitancy and this event has obviously frustrated us, but I guess the positive is that we recognize that the transparency and the awareness regarding potential safety issues would motivate individuals regarding the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines,” said Hébert-Magee.

Dr. Susan Hassig is a Tulane University epidemiologist who agrees that the federal system for reporting and investigating side effects is working. Still, she said vaccine hesitancy could increase.

“Anything that is going to potentially undermine confidence in a product is going to pose some kind of problem. How big that problem is I think is going to depend on what information comes out from the investigation and assessment of these very, very small number of cases out of millions and millions of people,” said Hassig.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana is a physician and said on Tuesday during a video call with reporters that vaccines are still important in the fight against the dangerous coronavirus.

“Republicans, white Republicans have been the group least likely to be vaccinated, so it isn’t necessarily one group or another, it’s blacks and whites, it’s Democrats and Republicans. We can see there is hesitancy across the spectrum,” said Cassidy. “But if you figure 122,000 people may die for every 6.8 million cases of coronavirus infection and six people have a serious side effect out of every 6.8 million doses the risk-benefit ratio is strongly in favor of getting vaccinated.”

Federal health agencies are investigating J&J’s single-dose vaccine after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed rare and potentially dangerous blood clots.

Hassig agrees it is important to investigate the reports of the side effects and keep the public informed about the findings.

“To me, I wonder whether it is somehow connected, you know, I don’t know hormonal levels or something like, if there’s, with it being gendered that’s always a bit unusual, it kind of gets you thinking about you know maybe there’s some kind of pre-menopausal hormone level that is relevant, but it’s got to be still very rare,” Hassig stated.

Public health officials say it is critical that people who received the Johnson & Johnson shot not panic during the temporary pause of its use by the state of Louisiana and the rest of the country.

“We don’t want people to develop anxiety because they have recently become vaccinated, so if they had their vaccine administered within the last three weeks but they have mild symptoms, like mild headaches, you know, fever and chills, pain at the site of injection we want them to know that this is normal, this is the immune response and this is not the type of symptoms that would correlate with this rare clotting condition,” said Hébert-Magee.

She was asked about symptoms the public should be on the lookout for related to blood clots.

“So, this is definitely a condition that can be life-threatening, so if someone has been vaccinated within the last three weeks and they are having severe headaches, severe leg pain, severe abdominal pain, or shortness of breath they should contact their medical provider immediately,” said Dr. Hébert-Magee.

And she said not using Johnson & Johnson vaccines at least temporarily will not halt the state’s vaccination efforts given the amply supply of the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

“So, I do think that we can expect to continue to have adequate supply to meet the demand within the state,” Hébert-Magee stated.

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