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Virginia health leaders address vaccine hesitancy following J&J pause

Posted at 11:40 PM, Apr 13, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's vaccination coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, said he understood Virginians would have questions following the CDC and FDA's recommendation to pause the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to a rare but serious side effect, but reiterated Tuesday that vaccine safety was of the utmost importance.

According to the CDC, six people reported a severe type of blood clot, following their Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.

On the day of his scheduled Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Ashland, Benjamin Scott woke up to the news. Instead of the one-and-done J&J vaccine, he'd get the first of the two-dose Moderna.

"A little shocked," said Scott. "And then a little skeptical to get the other vaccine. But overall, I'm all right. I trust it."

Scott wasn't the only one with concerns.

"I don’t think it heightened my concern -- it just validated it," said Tawanda Felder, on her walk around Byrd Park Tuesday afternoon.

Felder said she’d already been a little hesitant to get the vaccine due to the speed at which the vaccines were released, but had planned to eventually get her shot.

"I really wanted to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson, so I didn’t have to do two, but it looks like I'm going to have to go that way," said Felder.

Julian Walker, Vice President of Communications with the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association said he understood people’s concerns, but also reiterated how rare the side effect was.

"Based on the announcement from the CDC and the FDA, we're talking about six cases," said Walker.

The CDC reported as of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses had been administered.

"You don't want anybody to have complications, but we are talking about a very small population at this point," said Walker.

Walker said the VHHA had seen vaccine hesitancy improve since the fall, when in a statewide poll only about one-third of Virginians said they’d get the vaccine. Now, he estimated that number was closer to 70%.

"These vaccines have been thoroughly evaluated; they've gone through the normal development process. They just went through that development process in an expedited fashion. And again, we would encourage people to get the vaccine when it is their turn to do so," Walker said.

In a teleconference Tuesday, Avula said he believed a major reason the federal government took the step to pause J&J vaccines so early on, was to maintain trust.

"I think they were very conservative about the decision to pause administration, because they needed to, like they know, we need to maintain public trust," said Avula.

Avula also added that this rare side effect was specific to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not Pfizer or Moderna.

"Nationwide, we have had over... 180 million doses of Moderna and Pfizer delivered and have not seen this pattern," said Avula. "Hopefully, what will be reassuring to people who are receiving the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine is that it's a different vaccine on a different platform. And we have not seen, we've not seen this pattern."

The CDC planned to meet with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Wednesday to further review the cases.

"FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases," said the U.S. FDA in a tweet.