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Why the Johnson & Johnson news feels so bad

  • April 14, 2021

Use of the Johnson Johnson vaccine, the only single-dose shot for COVID-19, which has been administered to nearly 7 million people in the U.S., was paused so federal health officials could review data involving six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot. People wondered what this one-in-a million risk meant for the health of those who’d already received the shot, for those scheduled to get it, for the vaccine hesitant, and for our collective hope life was on track to resume again.

Hours later, many questions were answered: Anyone who received the JJ shot a month ago is at very low risk of developing complications, and those who received the shot more recently can monitor for specific symptoms. In some states, people with JJ appointments were told they’d be given Moderna or Pfizer instead. Federal officials said the pause should have little impact on vaccine availability.  

A man leaves after receiving his vaccine at the Javits Center Covid-19 vaccination center on April 13, 2021 in New York.

But uncertainty still looms, namely around the fate of the JJ shot as well as how this pause may impact those who weren’t sure they wanted the shot in the first place. The announcement seemed to shatter an illusion of smooth sailing ahead, even if experts say this is exactly how science works. For a pandemic-weary nation, the pause was an unwelcome setback. 

‘Don’t panic’ over Johnson Johnson vaccine pause

Coping with continued uncertainty, and managing anxiety

Uncertainty has been a defining feature of COVID, but more recently, especially as vaccinations increased, there was a feeling that we better understood the path forward than ever before. Cases remained stable, and while health experts cautioned we weren’t in the clear, it seemed we were closer than ever to ending a pandemic that cost over 560,000 American lives.

Health experts say the JJ pause is no reason to panic – forward momentum is likely to continue – but it adds to uncertainty at time when our tolerance for uncertainty feels exhausted. It disrupts the largely positive vaccine narrative, adding a new and unnerving hurdle.

QA:What do I do if I’ve gotten the Johnson Johnson COVID-19 shot? Your questions, answered

Bufka said to manage anxiety, it can be helpful for people to remind themselves that they continue to make the best decisions with the information available. 

Comparing the COVID-19 vaccines

“The ability to sit with uncertainty and to recognize that we still have choices we can make and still have control over most of our lives is important,” Bufka said. “That will help us with all the rest of the curveballs that are going to come at us, whether they’re COVID-related or not.” 

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