NEW YORK – Faced with rare cases of blood problems potentially linked to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, U.S. health care faced a delicate task: how can we stop the distribution of shots without alarm over has security.
It was just the latest challenge in crisis reports for officials since the start of the pandemic more than a year ago. The behavior of the new virus, the benefits of masks and the need for closure of school and businesses are all marked by public confusion, change of guidance and controversy.
With the J&J shootings, the recommended “break” announced last week was a precautionary measure as government advisers investigated the unusual clumps and warned doctors about how to treat them. But the news was bound to burn fears.
‘It will be painful for both sides. It’s less painful if you approach it early, “said Dr. Wilbur Chen, a member of the government’s advisory committee on faxes, who is expected to meet on Friday and shortly afterwards make a recommendation on how and how to do it. use of the J&J vaccine.
Whether the break seriously undermines the public’s confidence in the J&J shot – like the other faxes – remains to be seen.
Even before the outbreak of coronavirus, training guides through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the difficulty of communicating in a public health crisis, when fear and uncertainty ran high. Yet how leaders communicate can be the key to winning public cooperation. Or undermine it.
By immediately informing the public that they are investigating clots, officials are following a fundamental rule in crisis management: transparency, even if the answers are not yet clear.
“We want people to know what we know,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy at a media briefing soon after the announcement about the J&J fax.
Trying to appear confident when uncertainty – which leaders are often taught to do – can backfire in a public health crisis, a CDC guide notes. In addition to building trust, let’s be clear about the unknown space for officials to change their guidance as new information emerges.
“COVID is a new disease and we’re learning new things, and that’s hard,” said Alice Payne Merritt, a public health communications expert at Johns Hopkins University. “What we knew in April 2020 is different from what we knew in April 2021.”
Quickly indicate what is not yet known and why has another advantage: remove the potential for misinformation to spread. Otherwise, people could fill in the blanks themselves, says the CDC guide.
“Silence can be harmful,” Payne Merritt agreed.
However, leaders may be reluctant to acknowledge uncertainty, especially as people crave clear answers and reassurance in stressful and unfamiliar situations.
Another problem: Fear can make it difficult for people to process new information, or as Payne Merritt put it: “Fear can override rational thinking. That’s just human nature.”
With the J&J shoot, for example, helping people understand the magnitude of each risk has been a challenge. So far, officials have said there have been six cases of the unusual blood clots of about 7 million J&J shots given in the US
People regularly just take bigger risks just in a car.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top expert on American infectious disease, noted the difficulty in putting the chances of adverse side effects in the right perspective for the public.
“They hear about a risk, and they do not know what it is relative to other things they do,” he said in an NBC interview.
Confusion and anger over public messages is not limited to the J&J shots.
In September, President Donald Trump came under fire when it was revealed that he “wanted to play it” to prevent a panic over the virus. Last April, U.S. officials criticized when they advised people to wear face masks, after previously saying masks were not necessary and should be reserved for health workers.
And for months, officials have been trying to raise concerns about COVID-19 faxing in general, in part by invoking local leaders.
In the first days of the outbreak, rare cases of severe allergic reactions caused concern about the vaccines. Chen, the government adviser, said officials were building trust by tackling the problem head-on. Now, he said, people have moved past it.
“Can you imagine if we basically tried to cover it up, tried to minimize it?” said Chen, a vaccine expert at the University of Maryland, adding that U.S. vaccination figures probably would not be where they are today.
As of this week, more than half of American adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.