On Tuesday, the U.S. vaccination effort against COVID-19 hit a snag, as reports emerged of blood clots in recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Federal officials recommended pausing the administration of the J&J shot until public health agencies can get a better sense of the situation.
This is obviously a setback in the U.S.’ fight to end a pandemic that has killed half a million people, sickened more than 31 million more and sent the economy spiraling. But here’s what it is not: a good reason to avoid getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Despite the kind of conspiratorial rants you may find on social media or the half-baked concerns you might hear from friends or relatives, COVID-19 vaccines overall are incredibly safe — and they’re the only way to end the pandemic.
Federal agencies’ decision to halt the J&J rollout was based on six cases of blood clots in women who had received the shot. For context, the total number of J&J shots administered in the United States is close to 7 million — meaning that, as public health officials have been saying ad nauseam for the past two days, this is an almost insignificant risk.
Still, an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to keep the vaccine on pause for at least another week as it gathers more data. Whenever a potential flaw is discovered in a widely-administered drug or vaccine, there is always a temptation to assume that any delay is a bad sign. In reality, the fact that the shot’s administration is being paused is a good sign, not a bad one. It means that the processes for making sure vaccines are safe are working and based on fact, not on innuendo or assumption. Public health officials’ decision to hold off on the J&J shot for now should therefore give us more confidence in the broader vaccination effort, not less. As Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery in the School of Medicine in Health Sciences, told CNN Wednesday, “it makes sense now to pause.”
It is also worth noting that the J&J vaccine has comprised only about 5 percent of the total COVID-19 shots administered in the United States. The other 95 percent has been either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. This means that, in addition to the potential adverse effects from J&J making up an extraordinarily low percentage of recipients, the type of shot itself is barely a blip in the total vaccination effort right now.
Vaccine hesitancy already poses a colossal obstacle to achieving herd immunity and stamping out the pandemic. While the headlines talking about the literally one-in-a-million chance of an adverse effect from one vaccine may be frightening, students should not give in to conspiratorial thinking and use this as an excuse to avoid getting vaccinated at all. Students should get whichever vaccine is available to them as soon as they are eligible to get it. That’s the only way the pandemic can end.