WH Held Distressing Call With Governors As It Scrambled To Explain J&J News

A Premise Health healthcare worker loads a syringe with the COVID-19 Johnson&Johnson Janssen vaccine to vaccinate Toyota employees on March 26, 2021 in Buffalo, West Virginia. (Photo by Stephen Zenner/Getty Images)
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April 13, 2021 6:59 p.m.

White House officials reportedly spent Tuesday morning on the phone with governors trying to explain federal health agencies’ sudden recommendation to pause Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, which officials were given short notice of, according to CNN.

According to CNN, Biden administration officials leading the President’s vaccine effort found out at 10 p.m. Monday night that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were preparing an announcement regarding J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine. But because many lingering questions remained, White House officials didn’t immediately brief the President of the alarming news.

White House officials instead briefed Biden when the FDA and CDC released a joint recommendation on Tuesday morning advising health care providers to stop administering Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution,” following an FDA advisory reporting that six women in the U.S. developed a rare blood-clotting disorder that led to the death of one woman and put another in critical condition.

Amid their concerns about how the J&J news could potentially lower the public’s confidence in the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, White House officials found themselves fielding frustrations from governors during a midday group call on Tuesday.

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In a recording of the group call obtained by CNN, state leaders expressed their dismay as federal health officials explained the pause on distributing J&J COVID-19 vaccines.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) grew increasingly frustrated as he pressed officials on whether there were other reasons behind the J&J news aside from the six documented cases of blood-clotting disorders in the country.

“Look, if I could just be frank for the sake of time — the questions we’re receiving over the last few hours on this are significant,” Sununu told the federal officials, according to CNN. “It’s very easy for a governor to pause, and of course we’ll do that if it’s a CDC and FDA recommendation, but it’s very hard as governors to go out and explain that we’re pausing based on something that is, as according to Dr. Fauci, a one-in-a-million occurrence.”

Sununu added that the ability of governors to reinstill confidence in vaccines after the J&J news makes it “100 times harder than the pause in the first place,” according to CNN.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) expressed his impatience with the pause on the distribution of J&J’s vaccines, suggesting that officials need to work quickly to no longer put the vaccines on hold, especially in light of J&J providing the only single-dose vaccine on the market that has helped vaccinate rural communities more efficiently.

“Given the relatively low risk, I encourage you to take the pause back off as quickly as possible,” Ricketts urged, before suggesting that officials potentially place restrictions on certain gender and age groups instead, according to CNN.

During a briefing earlier Tuesday, acting FDA commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said that Biden administration officials wished they had more time to prepare the public for the J&J news.

“As we learned about the issue with appropriate treatment, it was clear to us that we needed to alert the public,” Woodcock said.

Shortly after the FDA and CDC held a press conference on its recommended pause of J&J vaccine distribution, several states moved to cease its distribution.

Earlier Tuesday, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that federal health agencies’ recommendation to pause J&J’s COVID-19 vaccines wouldn’t impede the Biden administration’s vaccine rollout program.

“This announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan: Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5 percent of the recorded shots in arms in the United States to date,” Zients said in a statement.

Although he didn’t address concerns about potential vaccine hesitancy following the J&J news, the President also dismissed the notion of the country not having enough vaccine supplies.

“There is enough vaccine that is basically 100% unquestionable, for every single solitary American,” Biden said, while insisting that US purchases of vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna are enough to continue the record-setting levels of vaccinations nationwide.

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