HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: As J&J Halt Ends, Polling Seen as Critical

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 pause on the Johnson & Johnson shot, researchers say.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that health providers should resume administering the J&J vaccine after it was paused 10 days earlier, and they released 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 vaccination.

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. Although 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 have seen throughout our research is people have a lot of questions,” said Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “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 halt. Meanwhile, an Axios-Ipsos survey released on April 20 suggested 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 in her presentation—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.”

But Americans 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 hesitant people, side effects was their biggest worry, she said. “It does have the potential to decrease people’s willingness to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” she said.

How the 10-day pause affects hesitancy is top of mind for public health officials and political researchers. Without enough people vaccinated, officials fear coronavirus variants will have an easier time spreading throughout the U.S. and the world. Jacquie Lee has more.

  • Meanwhile in Europe, the European Union’s medicine regulator issued a new analysis of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that’s likely to reinforce the move of some governments not to use it on younger people. The European Medicines Agency said in an update that the shot’s benefits outweighed the risks of Covid-19 infection, but research also showed that balance depends on age. Naomi Kresge and Suzi Ring have more.

More on the Pandemic

End of U.S.’s Mass Vaccinations Coming Soon: After three months of vaccination across the U.S., a majority of American adults have gotten shots, and the effort will soon shift from mass inoculation to mop-up. As of Saturday, 138.6 million people in the U.S. have received at least a single vaccine dose. About 1.3 million more are getting a first dose every day, according to the CDC. While the rate of new vaccinators is falling, even if were immediately cut in half, it would mean that six weeks from now, over half of the population of the U.S. will have had one dose.

Almost all of those who get a first dose are likely to their second, according to one CDC study. On top of that, more than 80% of people aged 60 or over—the most vulnerable group—have had a dose and will likewise complete vaccination. That may be sufficient, at least to see a big impact on U.S. caseloads. The U.S. is currently about where Israel’s vaccine campaign was in mid-February, three weeks before cases there began to plunge.

But in the next few weeks, what the vaccine campaign is going to look like is going to change dramatically. The Biden administration is pursuing a strategy of abundance, which the White House has referred to as an “overwhelm the problem” approach. That means that there will likely still be widespread shipping of vaccines to pharmacies and health centers, vaccination clinics and mobile resources. But what’s likely to disappear are lines and scarcity. Read more from Drew Armstrong.

  • The U.S. political divide on whether to get the coronavirus vaccine suggests that “maybe there’s been too much finger wagging,” according to the head of the National Institutes of Health. “I’ve done some of that; I’m going to try to stop,” NIH Director Francis Collins said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” An NBC News poll released yesterday showed that 82% of Democrats had already been vaccinated or plan to be as soon as possible, against 45% of Republicans. Read more from Jesse Hamilton and Ros Krasny.

Vaccine Makers Warn of Nationalism: Moderna and GlaxoSmithKline are among a group of drugmakers calling for countries to cut down trade barriers related to Covid-19 vaccines amid worsening shortages of basic products needed to manufacture shots globally. The industry is highlighting that the world needs more raw materials, including lipids used in the messenger RNA shots, according to a press briefing on manufacturing Friday. Read more from Suzi Ring.

U.S. Is Sending Vaccine Materials to Covid-Ravaged India: The U.S. will send India raw materials for vaccines and step up financing aid for Covid-19 shot production, joining European countries in pledging to help stem the world’s biggest surge in cases. Material needed to produce Covishield, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made in India, has been identified and “will immediately be made available,” Emily Horne, a spokesperson for U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, said in a statement. Additionally, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation will fund an expansion of production capability by Indian vaccine maker Biological E Ltd., or BioE, to at least 1 billion doses by the end of 2022. Ventilators, therapeutics, rapid-test kits and personal protective equipment will be sent as well, according to the statement. Read more from Tony Czuczka.

More Headlines:

Happening on the Hill

Democrat Sees USAID’s Support on WTO Vaccine Waiver: The U.S. Agency for International Development supports the waiver on World Trade Organization intellectual property rules for Covid-19, and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has shown in conversations that she is “very sympathetic” on the issue, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. Schakowsky also said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to Biden in support, Eric Martin reports.

Lawmakers Press Labor on Workplace Safety Rule: House Democrats seeking answers on a delayed Covid-19 workplace safety rule are asking Biden administration officials to appear at a subcommittee hearing next week. The hearing reflects growing frustrations among members over the wait for workplace standards three months after Biden in an executive order directed the Labor Department to make a rule to protect workers from Covid-19 on the job. Read more from Andrew Kreighbaum.

Hearings on the Hill:

  • Health Antitrust: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law meets for a hearing Thursday on anticompetitive conduct and consolidation in health care markets.
  • Virus, Mental Health & Substance Use: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee holds a hearing Wednesday on Covid-19 response lessons applicable to addressing mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Virus Effects: The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee plans a hearing Wednesday on the lingering effects of Covid-19.
  • Telehealth: The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee holds a hearing Thursday on telehealth.
  • Child Care: The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee plans a hearing tomorrow on strengthening the child-care sector.
  • Virus & Native Schools: The Senate Indian Affairs Committee meets for an oversight hearing Wednesday on Covid-19 response in native communities and education systems.
  • Virus & Indian Health Service: The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies holds a hearing Wednesday to review the Indian Health Service’s Covid-19 response and future needs.

What Else to Know Today

Drugmaker Lobby Spending Drops in Early 2021: Lobbying spending by top corporations and industry groups declined overall in the first quarter of 2021 over the same span a year ago as the pandemic’s economic and public health impacts continued to affect businesses. But despite decreasing the amount it spent on lobbying over the last year, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America landed the No. 2 spot of top association spenders, spending $8.5 million this quarter compared to $9 billion in 2020’s first quarter.

And the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers, also earned a spot on the list of top 20 spenders for this quarter. The pharmacy benefit managers group more than doubled its lobbying spending, to $2.4 million; and the video game association spent $1.7 million on advocacy in the first three months of the year, 74% more than the same span in 2020. Read more from Megan R. Wilson and Jorge Uquillas.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

Top