Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said on Sunday the recent pause on the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine should raise confidence in health agencies’ focus on vaccine safety, as the administration tries to curb deadly outbreaks across the US.
The most dangerous outbreak is in Michigan, where more younger people are being hospitalized than at any point in the pandemic.
“Something we need to pay attention to is that we’re having still about 50,000 new infections per day,” Dr Anthony Fauci told ABC’s This Week. “That’s a precarious level and we don’t want that to go up.”
An independent government advisory panel on Friday voted in favor of resuming use of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine after it was put on pause to review cases of a blood clotting disorder in six women who received it. The vaccine will now include a warning on its label about the potential risk for rare blood clots and a fact sheet on potential side effects will be given to medical providers and vaccine recipients.
Fauci said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were “the gold standard for both safety and the evaluation of [vaccine] efficacy”.
“I think in the long run what we’re going to see – we’ll probably see it soon – is that people will realize that we take safety very seriously.”
The risk of developing the clotting disorder after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is extremely low. The highest-risk group appears to be women aged 30 to 39, in which there have been 11.8 cases per million doses given. Among men and women 50 and older, there has been less than one case per million doses.
“We’ve looked at it,” Fauci said. “Now let’s get back and get people vaccinated. And that’s what we’re going to be doing, get as many people vaccinated as we possibly can.”
Fauci said he expected updated guidance on mask use for vaccinated people to be released soon. In the US, 28% adults are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
He said he was encouraged by the effectiveness of the vaccines available, but warned that the US has still not reined in Covid-19. More than 568,000 people have died from the virus in the US.
Across the country, people in their 20s, 30s and 40s account for a growing share of hospitalizations. Michigan has confirmed 91,000 new cases in the past two weeks, more than in the two most populous states, California and Texas, combined.
The seven-day average for Covid-19 hospitalizations last week was 38,550, according to the CDC. At the peak of the pandemic, in December and January, the highest such average was 123,907.
The majority of the Michigan residents 65 and older have been vaccinated but that does not fully explain why cases have risen among those 60 and younger. Part of the change is being attributed to the B117 virus variant, which is more contagious and more deadly, and to an easing of restrictions on dining, crowds and mask wearing.
Dr Mark Hamed, medical director in the emergency department at McKenzie Hospital in Sandusky, Michigan, said people may have been lulled into a false sense of security because the region was spared from rampant cases last year.
Many people are still unvaccinated and the area “is being hit pretty hard”, Hamed told the Associated Press. “Our ER is absolutely swamped beyond belief.”
On ABC, Fauci was asked to address those who are hesitant to be vaccinated, including the Wisconsin Republican senator Ron Johnson, who has no medical expertise or background but said this week there was no reason to “push” vaccines on the American people.
“We have a highly efficacious and effective vaccine that’s really very, very safe,” Fauci said. “That is the reason why you want everyone to get vaccinated, so I don’t understand the argument.”
Surveys have shown Republicans to be one of the most vaccine hesitant groups. Democrats (67%) are more likely than independents (47%) and Republicans (36%) to report getting a first dose, according to a Monmouth University poll in early April.
Former president Donald Trump, who downplayed the severity of the pandemic throughout 2020, has encouraged people to get a vaccine.
On Sunday the Republican senator Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, encouraged people to get vaccinated and said of Johnson: “I definitely think that comments like that hurt. I believe that we should all have confidence that we should to not just protect ourselves, but our communities and our neighbors. We should get vaccinated.”
West Virginia was an early national leader in the vaccine rollout and 28.8% of residents are now fully vaccinated.
“We’re starting to find that we have more vaccine than we do have people who are willing to step forward,” Capito, who has been vaccinated, told CNN’s State of the Union. “So I’m trying to do whatever I can to say it’s safe, it’s reliable and it’s really about you and your neighbor.”