Detroit Mayor Walks Back J&J Snub After White House Call

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan made a surprise announcement reflecting his doubts about Johnson & Johnson’s newly authorized Covid-19 vaccine -- and then reversed himself after getting a call from a White House concerned he was off-message.

Despite revising his statement on the J&J shot, Duggan may have set up Detroit for trouble later this year by telling the city’s residents that the J&J single shots aren’t as effective as the double-dose versions from Pfizer and Moderna. That’s counter to the advice of the nation’s top Covid-19 expert, Anthony Fauci.

“Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best,” Duggan said at a March 2 press conference. “I am going to do everything I can to make sure that residents of the city of Detroit get the best.”

Duggan’s statement put the administration of President Joe Biden in an awkward position -- having to distance itself from the Democratic leader of a major city that was key to getting Biden elected, and undercutting the White House’s message that Americans should take whatever vaccine they can get first.

At a White House briefing Friday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was adamant: “There are three approved vaccines. They all are safe and effective. They prevent severe disease and death.”

Referring to Duggan, she added: “There was a bit of a misunderstanding -- he was going to go out and speak publicly about accepting vaccines. I’m not sure if that’s happened yet.”

As if on cue, Duggan soon after said he turned down the J&J vaccine only because Detroit had enough supply of the others to handle the city’s needs.

“The city of Detroit is excited that there are now three highly effective vaccines that will save lives,” he said. “The data from the clinical trials is clear -- the FDA, the CDC and Dr. Fauci all have been clear. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all highly effective at what we care about most, which is preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”

Problematic Message

Duggan’s initial message could be particularly problematic in Detroit, a city whose population is almost 80% African American. Across the country, surveys show that Black people have been less likely than other racial groups to get the vaccine. Duggan may have given Detroit residents another reason to avoid the shot.

J&J’s formula at first glance looks less effective than the vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. It was found to be 72% effective in preventing moderate-to-severe Covid-19 cases in the U.S., and 66% effective globally. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna respectively touted 95% and 94% efficacy in preventing symptoms of the disease.

Yet it’s impossible to directly compare results. J&J conducted the largest Covid-19 vaccine trial to date, including at dozens of sites in South Africa and Brazil, pitting its vaccine against mutant strains of the virus that the earlier vaccines weren’t tested against. The 43,000-plus participant study began enrollment in September and reported results in late January.

Across all regions, including places where more transmissible variants have spread, the vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe disease after 28 days. Further, it demonstrated complete protection against all Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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