PROVIDENCE – Pandemic authority Dr. Ashish Jha on Tuesday hailed this week’s opening of coronavirus vaccines to all U.S. residents age 16 and older – but strongly urged officials to simplify the process by which shots go into arms so all can take advantage.
The current patchwork of web sites and phone numbers used now in cities and states across America to schedule vaccinations, Jha said, is cumbersome and confusing and discourages many people who want protection quickly and easily.
“Nationally, we're at about 50 percent of adults who have been vaccinated,” Jha said. “We are now through the people who were ‘avid vaccine seekers’ -- the people who desperately, desperately wanted the vaccine, who were the equivalent of people who camp out all night for the new iPhone that's going to open up in the morning.”
People, he said, who have been willing to spend hours repeatedly refreshing their browsers until an appointment materialized and they could grab it.
But now, said the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, “there’s got to be an easier way. We shouldn’t make it hard for people.”
Jha said “the next ten to 20 percent” of people needed to help toward the goal of herd immunity are not anti-vaxxers, but rather individuals who do not fall in the “avid vaccine seeker” category.
How to reach them?
“Make it super-easy,” said Jha. “Things like no scheduled appointments -- just show up and you'll get a vaccine. Do outreach. Go to work sites. People have been talking about construction sites and construction workers, so send a vaccine van out to the construction site and vaccinate everybody who's willing to get vaccinated that day.
“There are all sorts of things we can do to get the next ten to twenty percent. If we just continue doing what we're doing, we're going to find that we're hitting a wall in terms of people getting vaccinated and that's going to be a huge problem because we're at 50 percent nationally now. We’ve got to get to 70, 80 % of adults before this disease really breaks and starts getting under full control.”
Regarding the federally recommended pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week following reports of a rare blood-clotting complication involving six women age 18 to 48 who received the company’s one-injection product, Jha repeated his assertion “that it was irresponsible.”
Jha said he expects the federal government will mostly lift the pause by the end of the week after a CDC scientific advisory board reports its findings. The CDC could, he said, “give an advisory for women [age 18 to 48] to get a little extra monitoring” after being inoculated.
“If they don't unpause it by Friday, I think that's a huge problem,” Jha said during Tuesday’s recording of the “COVID: What Comes Next” podcast, available exclusively from The Providence Journal and the USA TODAY NETWORK.
Jha also discusses COVID-19 mutations, saying “the reality of pandemics is that you're going to see new variants. We have seen new variants emerging out of India and one of them particularly has gotten a lot of attention. A lot of people are concerned about the implications and the bigger picture.
“The point is not to focus excessively on that variant per se but to really talk about the fact that variants are going to be coming for weeks and months and years and we need a strategy for how to identify them, how to track them, how to understand them, and whether they mean anything or not.”
The conversation turned to the safety of swimming pools, with Jha declaring that outdoor pools are safe and any risk associated with them would come after emerging, “when you're sitting with somebody for two hours and chatting and you're sitting right next to them. But passing by, you're not going to get it.”
Similarly, Jha said, transmission will not occur while swimming in an indoor pool, but if after “you sit with a friend for two hours right next to them and you’re not wearing a mask, that's a different thing.” In other words, risky.
Jha also answered two audience questions, one from a man in California who works for the Walt Disney Company who asked about the CDC’s V-SAFE monitoring program. Jha said it has value, but so do other programs that report adverse events.
Another woman asked about how best to discuss vaccinations with an adult daughter who is hesitant to be inoculated.
Jha said “lecturing and scare tactics almost never work” and he advised conversations about the benefits and safety of vaccines “and of course to listen to the questions that are driving the anxiety or the concerns” and respond with information and understanding.
This weekly podcast is hosted by G. Wayne Miller, health reporter for The Providence Journal.