- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2021

President Biden’s health officials lobbied Americans to maintain their faith in available COVID-19 vaccines as regulators work to resolve questions about blood clots and the Johnson & Johnson version, saying the public cannot succumb to hesitancy at this point in the pandemic effort.

Testifying before Congress, officials said they hope to resolve the J&J situation “quite soon” but there are safe and effective options for Americans as the nation deals with stubbornly high case counts fueled by viral variants.

“Nothing should detract from the fact that Americans need to get vaccinated, and that we have vaccines available today that meet our high standards for safety and effectiveness,” said David Kessler, the chief science officer for the federal COVID-19 response.

“Let’s get this done and then we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “That’s the goal.”

Federal and state officials are adjusting after advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended extending the J&J pause for at least a week. The scientists want to fully understand rare blood clots that were reported in six out of roughly 7 million recipients of the one-shot vaccine.

A new YouGov poll found 52% of people considered the J&J vaccine safe before the pause — a share that dropped to 37% after federal and state officials halted its use. Respondents who dubbed the vaccine “unsafe” rose from 26% to 39%, underscoring the challenge for federal officials as they chart a path forward.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn said Congress can improve American confidence by ensuring that 90% of lawmakers get vaccinated.

“We might be able to resume meetings on the floor of the House,” the South Carolina Democrat said. “I think we ought to lead by example and restore the House to regular order by getting vaccinated.”

Dr. Kessler said the U.S. can maintain a pace of over 3 million shots per day by relying on a steady cadence of messenger-RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, so the “greatest risk right now is the risk of vaccine hesitancy.”

“These are very safe vaccines,” he said.

The J&J question could be resolved within 10 days if experts use additional data to make recommendations for its use. For now, the pause is shelving an efficient tool for vaccinating homebound people and others who find it hard to get a second shot.

“Transient populations like migrant farmworkers, seafood workers, people experiencing homelessness. The White House was encouraging use of J&J for those being released from hospitals or those treated in hospital emergency rooms,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, told The Washington Times.

The suspension will reverberate around the world, as developing countries struggle to get their rollouts off the ground while richer countries enjoy alternative shots that haven’t raised red flags.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said U.S. experts recognize the blood clots in J&J recipients are incredibly rare but they wanted to make sure that doctors know what to look for and how to treat it.

“Hopefully, we’ll get a decision quite soon as to whether or not we can get back on track with this very effective vaccine,” he told lawmakers.

He said the nation is at a “critical turning point” in the COVID-19 pandemic and can outrace fast-moving variants through immunization.

“That is the solution. If we do that successfully, then we will turn that corner,” Dr. Fauci said.

Republicans on the subcommittee said Mr. Biden’s policies at the southern border are holding back the U.S. effort to wrangle the virus.

Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, showed pictures of crowded facilities holding children from the border surge, saying it was clear that “social distancing” didn’t apply there. 

He also cited reports of migrants being released and getting on planes without getting a COVID-19 test, even as Americans who fly home from other countries are required to present a negative test.

“They’re violating the very guidance that you tell Americans to follow,” Mr. Scalise said of border-minders.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Dr. Fauci said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, had a testy exchange with Dr. Fauci over the lack of clear goalposts for a return to normalcy.

“What number do we get our liberties back?” Mr. Jordan said.

Dr. Fauci said it was difficult to name a specific figure, sparking a back-and-forth among committee members and cross-talk as Mr. Jordan’s time expired.

“You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth,” Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, told Mr. Jordan.

Dr. Fauci later said he would feel more comfortable if daily case counts were “less than 10,000 per day,” compared to the current average of over 60,000.

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