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Fauci: J&J vaccine pause may have boosted confidence in safety

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news briefing at the White House on April 13. Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky

The federal government’s decision to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccines for 11 days as scientists studied dangerous blood clotting episodes may ultimately boost confidence in vaccine safety, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said Sunday.

Federal agencies lifted the pause on the single-dose vaccine Friday after reviewing reports of dangerous blood clotting in women, ages 18-48, after getting their Johnson & Johnson shots.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration allowed vaccinations to continue and required disclosure of warnings about the rare risk of blood clotting among women.

The federal review uncovered 15 cases of women who developed unusual blood clots, out of nearly 8 million vaccine recipients. Three women died, and seven remained hospitalized.

Asked on ABC’s "This Week" if the pause may have added to vaccine hesitancy, Fauci said the government had acted responsibly.

"I don't think that's ultimately going to be the case," Fauci said of the potential for more hesitancy.

Last week the New York State Health Department said more than 560,000 Johnson & Johnson doses had been administered in the state, out of more than 13.9 million doses overall.

During the J&J pause, however, Long Islanders were among those expressing vaccine hesitancy. The Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, for instance, said that when it notified people scheduled to get J&J vaccines at three locations that they would instead be offered the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, a few dozen people canceled.

"There were people who, because of what happened with the vaccine, they said, ‘I want to wait longer and see more about what’s going on,’ " coalition executive director Greta Guarton said.

Fauci said Sunday the "rest of the world was looking at the United States' decision, particularly because they know that the CDC and the FDA are the gold standard for both safety and the evaluation of efficacy."

Fauci, who is also director of U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, continued: "People will realize that we take safety very seriously.We're out there trying to combat the degree of vaccine hesitancy that still is out there. And one of the real reasons why people have hesitancy is concern about the safety of the vaccine."

Fauci said it was important to vaccinate as many Americans as possible. "When you get a critical number of people vaccinated, you really have a blanket of protection over the entire community," he said.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, agreed with the agencies' decisions and said the distribution of a fact sheet about Johnson & Johnson vaccines was a positive measure.

"I think that was the right decision," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"When you consider the nature of this risk, this is truly a rare event. And when you measure that against the benefits of preventing somebody from dying of COVID, there's no comparison. We clearly have a situation where the benefits greatly outweigh the risks, even for younger women."

He also said the government, in its bid to fight vaccine hesitancy, may need to drop its "finger-wagging" approach.

"I think maybe one of the things we can do is to change the conversation a little bit. I think maybe there's been too much finger-wagging," he said. "I've done some of that. I'm going to try to stop and listen, in fact, to what people's specific questions are." With David Olson