Katherine McCabe / Gavel Media

Combatting the Distrust in the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

On Friday, April 23, Father Leahy announced that all Boston College community members must be vaccinated to return to campus. While this is good for the safety of the BC community, there are still many Covid-19 vaccination skeptics out there. After the 10-day halt in administration for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, we face the risk of increased public distrust in the vaccine.  Despite growing distrust in science, this temporary pause should not be a deterrent and the public should listen to the experts who are proclaiming its safety.

In mid-April, the CDC announced that there were reports of unexplained blood clots in female recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The rare but dangerous blood clots appeared between 6 and 13 days after having received their J&J vaccines. The CDC found that in all 15 cases, the clots occurred in conjunction with low platelet counts. Having established a causal connection, the CDC is calling this “thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS)”. Essentially, the reports suggest women between the ages of 18 and 49 are at an increased risk of TTS in the weeks following the J&J vaccine. That being said, this is occurring at a rate of only 7 in 1 million women 18-49 years of age. That is equivalent to a .0007 percent chance. 

10 days later, health officials reapproved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because they determined the benefits outweigh the known risks. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky shared that over 650 hospitalizations and 12 deaths in women aged 18-49 and 7,500 hospitalizations and nearly 600 deaths in women over 50 years old could be avoided for every 1 million Johnson & Johnson doses administered. This statistic alone is enough to convince me of the importance of continued use of and faith in the J&J vaccine.

For years now, but especially since the pandemic began, science has been questioned. But when it comes to vaccines, we must trust the experts. I think the CDC and FDA know more about virus immunity than Kyle from business law. According to an ABC poll from late April, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans who are still not vaccinated say they would get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If we’re going to make it out of this pandemic, we need to listen to the scientific community. In countries like Australia and New Zealand where the government strictly adhered to the recommendations of global health experts regarding masks and social distancing, COVID numbers stayed relatively low compared to the rest of the world. 

While concern about side effects is understandable, the risk of blood clots is minuscule compared to the risk of other decisions that are more commonplace. For example, both birth control use and smoking increase the risk of developing a blood clot more than the vaccine. Many Americans take birth control and/or smoke with little worry about the potential of developing a blood clot. In addition, recent studies show that COVID-19 infection increases the risk of developing a blood clot — and that the risk is much higher than that from receiving the vaccine. 

If Americans couldn't care less about the increased blood clot risk when smoking, why are we seeing such widespread hesitation when it comes to vaccines? Simply put, science has become politicized. Americans have become dangerously suspicious of science, despite published evidence supporting scientific findings. Nevertheless, people like Tucker Carlson are given platforms to spread distrust, even going so far as to doubt that the number of reported cases of blood clots is real and proposing that it is higher. This kind of inflammatory rhetoric suggesting that the CDC and experts are lying only fuels the fire of doubt. People are jumping at the chance to justify slandering science. 

But a good rule of thumb is: when in doubt, fact check. As the nation recovers from having an indisputable liar for a president, we must find a way to trust the science again. Trump thrived off of trickery and invalidating truth for the sake of being right, and now we see the stain of deception on the minds of so many Americans.  Part of rebuilding America after Trump is caring for the common good, which life-saving vaccines have the ability to do. We have to deal with the consequences of years of mistrusting science. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can save lives, and the benefits outweigh the risks according to experts, so we should all have faith in science.

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