For the 15 million Americans receiving the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine, the federal government’s misleading messages just keep coming.
An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to vote today whether J&J recipients should get a booster shot. But the panel is unlikely to vote on the most pertinent question: Should the booster shot come from one of the other vaccines — Pfizer or Moderna, known as the mRNA vaccine — rather than a follow-up J&J. shot?
Scientific evidence increasingly suggests that the answer is yes (as I explain below). Still, the FDA panel is likely to defer the question and rule only on whether J&J recipients should receive the J&J booster.
This is the latest example of the recurring Covid problem. Time and again, government officials have chosen to follow pre-existing bureaucratic procedures, while doing so has led to widespread public confusion and counterproductive behavior.
Officials often defend this view by saying that they simply “follow the science”, but this is not quite accurate. When there is a conflict between scientific evidence and bureaucratic protocol, science often takes a back seat. Consider:
At the start of the pandemic, health officials across the country were desperate to conduct Covid-19 tests, but the CDC sometimes barred those officials from developing their own tests — even the CDC’s own initial The test also failed.
Around the same time, federal officials Public discouraged from wearing masks, adding that there was not enough evidence to support them – despite the masks’ longstanding effectiveness in hospitals in Asia and inside.
For much of this year, the FDA refused to give full authorization to any Covid vaccine — even as its top leaders were saying the shots were safe and effective and urging Americans to get vaccinated. Were were
The FDA has been slow to approve rapid covid tests, which helps explain why Britain, France and Germany are ramping up trials – but your local drugstore may not have any.
The repeated slowness of US officials stems from a worthy goal. They want to carefully consider the scientific evidence before making a decision. They want to avoid confusing the public or worse, promoting less than optimal medical treatment.
Yet while insisting on following procedures that were not written with a global pandemic in mind, officials have often done exactly what they wanted to avoid. They have misled the public and encouraged medically questionable behavior.
During a public-health crisis, officials are most effective when they are “first, right and credible,” as wrote sociologist and Times Opinion columnist Zeynep Tufeki. They are least effective when they offer “mixed messages, delays and confusion.”
Last month, this newsletter published a guide on whether J&J recipients should follow a mix-and-match approach of getting a booster shot with Pfizer or Moderna Vaccines. We concluded that the available scientific evidence argues for a mix-and-match approach, but that there was still uncertainty. We wrote that we understood why many people would not want to do this unless the government encouraged it.
This week, the data turned even stronger in favor of a mix-and-match approach.
The National Institutes of Health, which is part of the federal government, released a study comparing antibody levels in J&J recipients who received the J&J booster with those who received the mRNA booster. With both mRNA shots — Moderna and Pfizer — antibody levels were higher. The study didn’t include enough people or a long enough time frame to be certain, but many experts think it’s important.
It also follows other evidence in favor of the mix-and-match approach. In other countries, a similar approach appears to be successful. Partly as a result, an unknown number of American doctors and scientists who received the J.&J. vaccine have already taken it upon themselves to get a follow-up shot from Pfizer or Moderna. And the city of San Francisco already offers mix-and-match booster shots. “At the end of the day, people with Johnson & Johnson should probably get an mRNA booster,” Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Times.
Not a late addition to its agenda, the FDA panel today will only discuss the mix-and-match issue, but will not take any action on it. If you’re a J.&J. recipient looking for clarity from your government, you’re on your own.
A national health advisor?
Bureaucratic lethargy and confusion are not a new problem. At several points in American history, the federal government has taken steps to address them.
In 1947, Congress created the National Security Council to help the president make sense of competing advice from military leaders, diplomats, and others. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton created a similar council to coordinate economic policy. And some individual officials – such as Ben Bernanke, former Federal Reserve chairman – have previously managed to avoid the problem that has plagued the FDA and CDC: These executives inertia during a crisis to block common-sense policies. refused. As I mentioned earlier, Bernanke’s memoir is titled “The Courage to Act.”
During the pandemic, many Americans are considering playing a similar role to Dr. Anthony Fauci. They sometimes have (especially when Donald Trump was flouting medical evidence). But Fauci is an NIH official who doesn’t have the power to coordinate federal policy. It is not his job to articulate the government’s competing public-health messages. They haven’t done so on some big issues including rapid tests and J&J boosters.
No one has. As a result, federal policy has at times fallen behind the scientific evidence, leaving many Americans feeling confused and frustrated – and the country’s Covid response may be less effective.
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Robert Durst, the subject of the documentary “The Jinx”, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000 for the murder of a friend.
The emails show a warm relationship between top NFL lawyer Jeff Pash and the former president of the Washington football team.
Horror movies, novels and TV shows reflect our worries. also give relief Stephen Graham Jones argues.
Supreme Court may now belong to Clarence Thomas, says Jill Abramson.
Nicholas Christoph, Pulitzer-winning columnist, is leaving The Times as he weighs in for Oregon governor.
read in the morning
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Collectibles: Battle for sneakers.
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Advice from Wirecutter: These smokeless fire pits and patio heaters are perfect for fall.
Live: Russ Kick, a self-described “rogue transparency activist,” used the Freedom of Information Act to excellent effect, exposing documents that sometimes made front-page news. He died at 52.
Gary Paulsen’s young-adult novels, including “Hachet” and “Dogsong,” inspired generations of stories of his discovery. Paulsen died at the age of 82.
when money looks dark
The new season of the HBO drama “Succession,” which chronicles the dysfunctional family of media billionaires, begins Sunday. Although the show shares DNA with plays such as “Dynasty” and “Dallas”, which also document the lives of the ultrarich, “Succession” is different, writes Times critic James Poniavoczyk.
Its premise is familiar – the show follows siblings who plot to become either their father’s favorite, a mogul, or the engineer of his downfall. But the show’s portrayal of wealth is a departure from its predecessors. Being rich in TV serials in the 80s he looked glamorous and offered escapism. For example, in the opening sequence of the original “Dynasties,” Joan Collins was shown “wearing squash racket-shaped bejeweled earrings,” writes Poniwoczyk.
On “Succession,” getting rich seems a lot less fun. The show’s aesthetic is cool: The opening episodes of the new season take place in conference rooms, on the tarmac, inside airplanes and cars. Even the parties the characters attend “look like conceptual art installations and feel like works,” writes Ponivojic.
“Succession” remains a cult favorite rather than a huge hit, and the untouchability of its central family may be one reason. What attracts the audience is the drama, though bleak. “The good guys aren’t even in the game,” writes Ponivojic. “You can only expect to see a terrible person doing something terrible to a more terrible person.” — Sanam Yaar, Morning Writer