The Pause in the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine: What Social Workers Should Know

Portrait of a happy woman in a car with a 'get vaccinated' sticker - wearing face maskThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 13 made a momentous decision to indefinitely pause the distribution of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. The action was triggered by reports that six women developed serious blood clots in the brain that appear to be associated with the J&J COVID vaccine. One of the women died from and another woman remains hospitalized.

In their joint statement, the agencies said they decided to do the  pause “out of an abundance of caution.”  FDA and CDC will work with partners to inform healthcare providers about symptoms associated with J&J vaccine and the proper treatment for this type of blood clotting.  During the pause period, the agencies will review data from the six cases to investigate the link between the clotting and the vaccine and the public health impact of the pause in distributing the J&J vaccine.

Pause may worsen suspicions in communities of color about vaccine

While federal health officials have responded to this situation quickly  by making themselves available to national media to reassure the public, there is concern the J&J vaccine issue could impact  the White House’s Vaccine Confidence Initiative . In short, the initiative is primarily a national effort to build confidence in COVID-19 vaccinations among communities of color. This is because many Black and Brown people have shown a reluctance to take the vaccine due the historical treatment of people of color by the medical community.

The pause in using the J&J vaccine could not only exacerbate the skepticism but comes at a time when there was growing suspicion in the Black community about the J&J vaccine the before the pause. That distrust apparently stems from the misinterpretation of the announcement that the J&J vaccine was 74 percent effective as compared to the 95 percent effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Mostly because it is a one-dose vaccine, the J&J vaccine has been recommended as the vaccine of choice in some jails, homeless shelters and within transient populations. These populations include a disproportionate number of people of color. As a result, a degree of vaccine hesitancy emerged from the notion that marginalized populations of color were arbitrarily being given a “less effective” vaccine than White communities

As a partner in Made to Save table of the White House’s Vaccine Confidence Initiative, it is important that NASW encourage its chapters and members to reassure those to whom they provide services about the imperative of their becoming fully immunized from COVID-19 infections.

Information Social Workers should share

Immunization remains a priority in order to overcome the disproportionate illness and death rates from COVID among communities of color. The FDA and CDC are meeting to determine the overall efficacy of the J&J vaccine. Their report will be made public shortly. In the meantime, those of us who have personal and professional relationships with individuals who recently received a J&J COVID vaccination should share the following recommendations.

  • If you received the J&J COVID-19 vaccine within the last three weeks, please contact your healthcare provider or seek medical attention if you have a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, and/or shortness of breath.
  • Please note that it is common to experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms, including fever, headache, fatigue, and joint/muscle pain, during the first week after receiving any COVID-19 vaccine.  These common side effects usually start within three days of getting a vaccine and should only last a few days.
  • Everyone who received a COVID-19 vaccine – any COVID vaccine – should sign up for V-Safe – CDC’s After Vaccination Health Checker.

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