Vaccine hesitancy may be one of the biggest threats to reaching herd immunity in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.
The decision Tuesday to pause administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to investigate the cases of six women who developed blood clots after getting the shots, and whether it's linked to the vaccine, is not helping instill confidence in the shots.
“Now this is going to cause some people to pull back,” Methuen Mayor Neil Perry said.
Two people who live in the city agreed that the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccines seemed like it would have effects on public confidence.
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“If they were scared before because they didn’t know the consequences, they’re going to be more scared now,” Cristian Cruz said.
Jim Falzone of Methuen whose scheduled shot was canceled said, “It was like a rush to get it, and then it’s out here now and now we’re hearing all different symptoms.”
Perry was forced to cancel a vaccine clinic at The Loop Tuesday, where 600 people were scheduled to get the Johnson & Johnson shot.
“I hope factually we get enough information to kind of clear up any doubts and kind of move forward,” Perry said.
Some experts are concerned that, no matter what researchers find in terms of actual risk from the vaccine -- all drugs have some risk, and relatively few people blood clots have been reported -- it will be hard to undo the damage done to the trust in these vaccines in some people’s eyes.
“Certainly for those that are hesitant and worried about vaccines in general, this casts a pall over the vaccines in general, saying, well here’s a side effect we didn’t anticipate. It’s very serious and, you know, do I want to take the risk, even if it’s one in a million?” said Dr. Robert Klugman with UMass Memorial Medical Center.
Vaccine hesitancy isn't new. Doctors have had to combat it for years, including baseless rumors that the COVID vaccine causes infertility. But it's a hurdle to vaccinating enough of the population that the virus will stop spreading in it -- which is how scientists and doctors were able to wipe out deadly pathogens like polio and smallpox.
The approved COVID vaccines have been tested extensively on thousands of people, in tests whose results have been published widely.
In the meantime, the Johnson & Johnson pause leaves those who were ready to get vaccinated at the now-canceled clinic with more questions than answers.
“I’m glad that they canceled it if they have a concern because, you know, why do something just to do it?” Dorene Cormier said.
Perry is hoping to avoid vaccine hesitancy in partnership with Holy Family Hospital, which quickly stepped up to instead offer Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to the 600 people scheduled to receive vaccines at the canceled clinic.