As J&J Shot Resumes, Polling Seen as Key to ‘Arm the Messengers’

April 26, 2021, 9:31 AM

More extensive polling on people’s perception of Covid-19 vaccines will be crucial to tailoring public health officials’ messaging after U.S. agencies lifted a recommended pause on the Johnson & Johnson shot, researchers say.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said April 23 that health providers should resume administering the J&J vaccine after it was paused 10 days earlier, and they issued a revised fact sheet for providers with information about the risk of rare blood clots. The decision followed reports of 15 people developing clots after getting vaccinated—more than double the cases that prompted the nationwide hold.

An advisory panel for the CDC—which voted 10-4 with one abstention to reaffirm its support for the J&J vaccine—stressed the need to inform providers and patients about their risk levels. While the benefits generally outweigh the risks, people must be able to make the decision themselves, multiple panelists said.

Current survey data makes it hard to say whether people will be willing to get the J&J vaccine—and if they aren’t, whether that hesitancy will be permanent.

“One thing we’ve seen throughout our research is people have a lot of questions,” Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said. “It’s important to understand how this is affecting people’s attitudes so you can arm the messengers with answers to those questions.”

An Economist/YouGov poll published April 15 found that 26% of respondents considered the J&J shot “unsafe” before the pause, while 39% considered it unsafe after the pause. Meanwhile, an Axios-Ipsos poll released April 20 suggests it had no noticeable effect on people’s likelihood to get vaccinated.

Sara Oliver, a physician at the CDC who presented at the April 23 vaccine advisory committee meeting, cited two other surveys—one from CVS Health that found “half of the unvaccinated are less inclined to receive COVID-19 vaccine after the pause, regardless of brand” and one from policy group the de Beaumont Foundation that “did not suggest reduction in intent to be vaccinated.”

Federal health agencies called for a nationwide pause April 13 following six reports of women who developed rare blood clots after getting vaccinated. Federal officials halted use of the product out of an “abundance of caution” while they sorted through the data.

How that pause impacts hesitancy is top of mind for public health officials and political researchers. Without enough people vaccinated, officials worry virus variants will have an easier time spreading throughout the U.S.

On the Fence

People who were on the fence about Covid-19 vaccines before the pause “were more likely to say they preferred J&J’s single-dose vaccine over the others,” Hamel said. Of the people who were hesitant, side effects was their biggest concern, she said.

“It does have the potential to decrease people’s willingness to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” she said. “Whether a link is proven with these blood clots or whether they’re presented as rare, people are going to perceive them as side effects.”

Other factors also play a role in getting as many Americans vaccinated as possible, like ensuring people have easy access to vaccine centers and appointments, researchers argue.

But leaders within the CDC, FDA, and the National Institutes of Health say their caution should inspire confidence in the safety monitoring of Covid-19 vaccines. In Europe, the company will restart deliveries after its regulators said last week the benefits of the shot still outweigh the risks.

Quick Survey Results

Most large survey organizations don’t have data on the pause because it happened so recently. Still, surveys from groups that are able to collect information quickly can be beneficial, according to Marjorie Connelly, a senior research fellow at NORC at the University of Chicago, a research organization.

“If the topic is something on the news, it is probably better to get the survey results released as soon as possible because views could be changeable,” she said.

But to reach a greater number and potentially more diverse mix of respondents it’s sometimes better to take more time to collect responses.

“Usually surveys make a number of attempts at different times of the day, on different days in an attempt to reach as many people as possible,” Connelly said. She added that the subject matter of the survey affects how long the survey should take.

The YouGov poll—published two days after the freeze—indicated the pause had a “huge” impact on people’s perception of the J&J shot’s safety. It also found a majority of Americans consider Moderna and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines safe.

The Axios-Ipsos poll found that 20% of respondents said they’re not at all likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available to them—a number that’s “remained steady since early January 2021.”

The Economist/YouGov got its results quickly by comparing survey responses before the pause began to those who completed the same survey right after the pause was announced.

Many Factors

Ultimately, people’s willingness to get vaccinated won’t hinge on the J&J pause alone, researchers said.

“There can be a mix of factors people are facing when deciding to get a vaccine and this is just one of many potential factors,” Cary Funk, director of science and society research at the Pew Research Center, said. “Access to vaccine in an easy convenient manner can also make a difference.”

Research by KFF shows access is a big issue, too. People are worried about taking time off of work to get a vaccine—something the Biden administration is trying to assuage by offering small employers tax credits to fund paid time off for their employees.

Ensuring access to both the vaccine and reliable information will be key. The HHS launched a Covid-19 public health campaign April 22 pairing medical experts with “prominent influencers and organizations with large social followings to meet people where they are with the information they need to feel confident about receiving the vaccine,” the agency said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

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