Johnson & Johnson Pause Leads to Spike in Vaccine Hesitancy

Survey Results Fielded From Dec. 16 to Apr. 23

COVID illustration.

Ellen Lindner / Verywell Health

Key Themes From Our Survey

  • Vaccine hesitancy jumped after the FDA paused the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to blood clot concerns. 
  • Unvaccinated people are becoming more concerned about vaccine side effects and less worried about the pandemic.
  • A nationwide push to increase easy access to vaccination is the way forward.

As demand for the COVID-19 vaccines slows, the U.S. faces a challenge in getting shots in the arms of unvaccinated Americans, who are growing increasingly hesitant. While the number of unvaccinated people is shrinking, this group is becoming more difficult to sway.

The Verywell Health Vaccine Sentiment Tracker shows vaccine hesitancy spiked following the 10-day pause of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to our latest survey, 44% of unvaccinated Americans say they would not get the vaccine. This number is up 14 percentage points from our last survey.

Experts hoped that a pause for monitoring a very rare (1 in 1 million) side effect would instill confidence in the systems in charge of addressing adverse vaccine reactions. Instead, for many, this pause decreased confidence in the vaccines. 

Our survey found that unvaccinated people are becoming more concerned about side effects, less confident in the vaccine, and at the same time, less worried about the pandemic.

The data presented in this article is from 10 surveys of 2,000 Americans asked about their thoughts and feelings towards getting the COVID-19 vaccines. We collected the latest data for the week ending on April 23. Our survey sample highlighted four types of respondents based on their answer to whether or not they’d get an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine if it were free and available: 

  • Acceptors: Those who would agree to be vaccinated
  • Rejectors: Those who would not agree to take a vaccine
  • Undecideds: Those who don’t know if they would take a vaccine
  • Vaccinated: Those who have received a COVID-19 vaccination

This rise in vaccine hesitancy among the unvaccinated means that the U.S. faces an uphill battle in reaching President Joe Biden's goal of getting at least one vaccine dose to 70% of U.S. adults by July 4. It also means the country is falling off pace for achieving herd immunity.

Why Are Unvaccinated People Increasingly Hesitant?

On April 13, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC recommended a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. During this time, the agencies reviewed six rare reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis—a blood clot that prevents blood from draining out of the brain—associated with the vaccine. While the government lifted that pause ten days later, our survey saw a significant decrease of 15 percentage points in preference for Johnson and Johnson vaccines after the pause. Notably, concerns about side effects rose substantially too.

But as confidence in the vaccine dropped, so did concerns about the pandemic. As cities and states (from New York to Florida) ease up on pandemic restrictions and life begins returning to a new version of “normal,” unvaccinated people are worrying less about getting sick, even without getting jabbed. The inconvenience of vaccine side effects, and the potential for serious symptoms, pose a more significant threat to their daily lives than a pandemic on the downswing.

The people who have already been vaccinated were eager to get the shot. Now, those who are left likely don’t see vaccination as necessary for normalcy; many are already resuming their daily activities anyway. Airports are at their busiest since last March and the New York City subway recently hit its highest daily ridership in over a year.

On an individual level, an unvaccinated person in a low-risk group may not be highly susceptible to a severe case of COVID-19. But the pandemic is far from over. The continued spread of the virus in our communities may lead to breakthrough cases that infect those at risk who have gotten the vaccine or may lead to new variants that can escape the protective immunity of the shot. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), just 0.01% of fully vaccinated people in the U.S. are known to have caught the virus. But to keep these numbers low, the U.S. needs to pivot its vaccination efforts to reach those people who aren’t as interested in getting the shot—like young people.

Easier Access Will Help Sway Skeptics

Reaching the hesitant unvaccinated population is challenging, but not impossible. To increase access to vaccines, the Biden administration and local governments are leaving behind mass-vaccination arenas and turning to a new strategy: reaching people where they are and offering incentives. 

The Biden administration recently directed pharmacies to offer walk-in appointments and redirected FEMA resources to support more pop-up clinics, smaller community vaccination sites, and mobile clinics. The administration is also providing tax credits to businesses that give employees time off to get vaccinated and is sending COVID vaccine doses to rural health clinics. 

Local governments are also trying to make getting the shot as easy as possible: 

  • Miami just announced it’ll be holding walk-in vaccine clinics at the airport—one of the largest employers in the city—for passengers and employees and will be instituting this strategy with other major employers. 
  • A few states, like Kentucky, plan on making the vaccine more available to local doctors who can distribute doses during primary care check-ups. 
  • Some states are even offering incentives: West Virginia is offering savings bonds, Maryland is offering $100 to vaccinated state employees, and New Jersey and Connecticut are handing out free drinks for vaccinated people. 

All of these efforts aren’t in vain—they actually work. Take Delaware for example, where doctors are going door to door offering COVID vaccines at motels off the highway. These doctors were able to get dozens of people vaccinated who otherwise would have gone under the radar. It’s a strategy this team has long since used to tackle the opioid epidemic in the state. Repurposing these strategies nationwide will help get shots in the arms of those hard-to-reach people.

A Word From Verywell

Getting a vaccine is essential for helping yourself and others in your community. If you or someone you know hasn’t been vaccinated yet and can get the shot, do everything you can to help get them their vaccine. You can find an appointment near you at VaccineFinder.org. If you want to help encourage hesitant people in your life to get vaccinated, our COVID-19 vaccine Healthy Conversation Coach can guide you through what to say—and what not to say—to someone expressing aversion toward the vaccines.

Methodology

The Verywell Vaccine Sentiment Tracker is a biweekly measurement of Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19 and the vaccine. The survey is fielded online every other week. The total sample matches U.S. Census estimates for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region. It consists of 1,000 Americans from December 16, 2020, until February 26, 2020, after which the sample size increased to 2,000 per wave.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Breakthrough Case Investigations and Reporting. Updated April 30, 2021.