Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

A box containing vials of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Antwerp, Belgium, on April 30, 2021. (AP) A box containing vials of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Antwerp, Belgium, on April 30, 2021. (AP)

A box containing vials of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine in Antwerp, Belgium, on April 30, 2021. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson May 14, 2021

Did U.S. pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine help or harm vaccine confidence? Evidence is mixed

If Your Time is short

• Federal officials in April recommended resuming use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a 10-day pause to investigate cases of blood clots among a few vaccinated people.

• A de Beaumont Foundation poll found greater enthusiasm to get a vaccination after the pause; YouGov polls show slightly declining hesitancy; and an Axios/Ipsos poll found no softening of interest in getting a vaccination despite the pause.

• However, a Kaiser Family Foundation survey found rising concern about side effects after the pause was announced. And polls by Kaiser, YouGov, and ABC and the Washington Post found low and worsening trust of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the pause was announced.

In mid-April, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control recommended a "pause" in the administration of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, saying that blood clots in a tiny fraction of cases required further review.

Ten days later, after completing the safety review, both agencies recommended ending the pause and resuming use of the J&J vaccine. 

The pause prompted some observers to worry that the federal action could elevate public concern about the safety of the J&J vaccine in particular, and about coronavirus vaccines in general.

These concerns were heightened by the near-simultaneous slowdown of immunization rates in most states, as the shrinking pool of unvaccinated Americans became more filled with people who were vaccine hesitant.

On May 9, Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, tried to bolster the notion that the vaccines are safe — claiming that the J&J pause only strengthened that view among the public, rather than undermining it.

"The research showed ... that confidence overall in the vaccines increased after the pause," Zients said on CNN’s "State of the Union."

When we looked at polling data, we found some evidence to support Zients’ view but also found survey results that suggest damage has been done to the public’s view of J&J’s vaccine in particular, and perhaps to the others. The picture is more mixed than either solely positive or negative.

Evidence backing up Zients’ assertion

One piece of evidence that supports Zients’ case comes from a survey sponsored by the de Beaumont Foundation and conducted by pollster Frank Luntz.

The survey, which was taken a few days after the pause was announced, found that overall, 40% of respondents said they were more likely to get one of the vaccines than they had been a month before.

Meanwhile, weekly polls by YouGov for The Economist have shown slightly declining hesitancy about getting vaccinated since before the pause began. In the poll taken from April 3 to April 6, prior to the pause, 40% of respondents either said they wouldn’t get vaccinated or weren’t sure about getting vaccinated. In the subsequent four polls, that number was 41%, 35%, 33%, and 32%, with the final poll taken between May 1 and May 4.

Another poll, sponsored by the media outlet Axios and conducted by the research firm Ipsos, found no evidence of wider vaccine hesitancy after the pause was announced.

The Axios poll, which was taken several days after the de Beaumont poll, found that 20% of respondents said they were "not at all likely" to get the vaccine as soon as it was available to them. That percentage has shown little change since it was asked in early January 2021.

Another data point suggests that Americans felt comfortable with the pause. The Axios poll found that 91% of respondents were aware of the pause, and that of those, 88% said it was a responsible decision. (When we asked the White House for support for Zients’ statement, a spokesperson directed PolitiFact to both the de Beaumont and Axios polls.)

Featured Fact-check

Finally, some polling evidence suggests that while J&J’s vaccine was hit by a decline in confidence, the two other vaccines used in the United States, one produced by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna, were spared.

On the one hand, the Economist/YouGov poll, which surveyed Americans both before and after the pause began, found confidence in the J&J vaccine declining after the pause. Among respondents who answered before the pause was announced, 52% considered it to be "very safe" or "somewhat safe." That fell to 37% for respondents who answered after the pause was made public.

Yet that decline was not mirrored in their view of Pfizer and Moderna. For both those vaccines, nearly 60% of respondents said they believed they were safe — numbers that were essentially unchanged from prior surveys.

Another poll, by Dynata for CNBC, showed similar results. 

The first choice brand for respondents was Pfizer, at 35%, followed by Moderna and J&J at 17% each. That result marked a significant dropoff for J&J compared with the previous month’s version of the poll, which found that the J&J vaccine — which unlike the other two can be taken in a single shot — had been the favorite of 29%. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, by contrast, both increased their share on this question.

Other polling shows some caveats

The strongest evidence against Zients’ assertion comes from a poll taken by the Kaiser Family Foundation in the second half of April. 

Among those who said they were not yet convinced they should get the vaccine right away, 81% reported that they worried about serious side effects from the vaccine — an increase from 70% the prior month. For women, who accounted for the bulk of the reports of blood clots among J&J recipients, concern increased even more. The share with those concerns rose 15 percentage points, from 77% in March to 92% in April.

Meanwhile, other surveys mirrored the YouGov poll’s finding that public concern about the safety of J&J’s vaccine was higher than for either Pfizer or Moderna.

The Kaiser poll found that 46% believed the J&J vaccine was safe, far below the 69% who said the same for both Pfizer and Moderna. This sentiment was even more pronounced among respondents who told Kaiser they would "wait and see" about whether to get a vaccination — essentially, the group of "vaccine hesitant" Americans. Among these respondents, more than half said they thought Pfizer and Moderna were safe, compared with just 28% who said they believed J&J was safe.

The ABC News-Washington Post poll found similar discrepancies by brand. After the pause, slightly fewer than half of respondents considered the J&J vaccine to be "very" or "somewhat" safe, compared with better than 7 in 10 respondents for two rival vaccines. And among respondents who were not yet immunized, J&J’s reputation was even worse — fewer than one-third said it was safe.

Our ruling

Zients said "the research showed … that confidence overall in the vaccines increased after the pause" to review the safety of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.

There is evidence to support his assertion. A de Beaumont Foundation poll found greater enthusiasm to get a vaccination after the pause; YouGov polls show slightly declining hesitancy; and an Axios/Ipsos poll found no softening of interest in getting a vaccination despite the pause.

However, there’s also evidence that the pause worried Americans. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found rising concerns about side effects after the pause was announced. And polls by Kaiser, YouGov and ABC and the Washington Post found low and — after the pause was announced — worsening trust of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even if that did not spill over into sentiments about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources

CNN, "State of the Union" transcript, May 9, 2021

Kaiser Family Foundation, "KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor - April 2021"

de Beaumont Foundation, "Poll: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine"

CNBC, "Almost 20% of unvaccinated Americans still prefer J&J Covid vaccine after U.S. pause, survey shows," May 4, 2021

YouGov, "Decision to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccine causes public confidence in vaccine to sink," April 15, 2021

Axios/Ipsos, "Americans’ reemergence picks up speed," May 11, 2021

Washington Post-ABC News, poll results, April 18-21, 2021

Washington Post, "The vaccination slowdown has slowed down," May 13, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Louis Jacobson

Did U.S. pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine help or harm vaccine confidence? Evidence is mixed

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up