SF doctors on mission to regain community trust in vaccines after J&J pause

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- After reports surfaced that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may cause rare but potentially dangerous blood clots, doctors are now highly concerned about vaccine hesitancy in communities of color, where it was already difficult to gain trust.

For months community members and medical experts gained trust with COVID-19 test sites in their neighborhoods. That was followed by community vaccination hubs.

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"We are partners with the community. Does this concern me? Yes. One - The data itself. Two - Its impact on those who've had the vaccine. Whether or not they are at risk and concerned about how they are feeling," said Malcolm John, M.D, UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist.

Malcolm John went into medicine to help his community. He's an infectious disease specialist at UCSF, and after seeing how Blacks were three times more likely to die from coronavirus, he led an effort to vaccinate his community in the churches. J&J was the main vaccine they administered.

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Dr. John says transparency will be key. For months they gained the community's trust, and now this could set that work back.

"Particularly the Black community which has had higher rates of vaccine hesitancy. They actually had embraced the J&J vaccine in our outreach at the churches as a 'one and done' option that was very appealing," said Dr. John.

In the last three weeks they've vaccinated 400 people, the majority African Americans. He says these reports of blood clots are extremely rare and if there were any side effects within this local group, chances are he would know by now.

Luz Pena: "So, by now you would know if somebody had some of reaction?"

Malcolm John: "We should if they reported it to us. Yes."

Luz Pena: "Nothing yet?

Malcolm John: "We have heard nothing."

On Saturday, they were planning to vaccinate 200 community members.

"We had a scheduled vaccination for this Saturday. That has been paused. We will contact those individuals and let them know about the pause and other opportunities to be vaccinated within the city," said Jonathan Butler, San Francisco African American Faith Based Coalition.

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Butler also said they are contacting people who've been vaccinated with the J&J to check on them.

San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church is also stopping its Johnson and Johnson vaccinations for now. So far, 300 of their vaccines have gone to Tenderloin residents, majority of them homeless.

"We are going to pivot to Moderna, which is still going to be accessible for folks in the Tenderloin. It's just more of a challenge to get folks back to their second appointment," said Kenneth Kim, Senior Director of Programs at GLIDE SF.

Dr. John will be holding town halls this week for the African American community to target those hesitancy question. He says the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine continue to show high efficacy and this shouldn't deviate people from wanting to get vaccinated.


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