White House and Detroit officials tried to limit fallout after Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan initially declined to accept an allocation of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. The move is at odds with federal health officials’ recommendations and the Biden administration messaging that Americans should take whichever vaccine they first have access to.
“As I understand it, our team has been in touch with the mayor, there has been a bit of a misunderstanding,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki during Friday’s briefing, adding that she thought “he was going to go out and speak publicly.”
Earlier this week, Duggan, a Democrat and an early supporter of President Joe Biden, declined an initial allocation of 6,200 doses of the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services told CNN.
“So, Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best. And I am going to do everything I can to make sure the residents of the City of Detroit get the best,” Duggan said during a news conference Thursday.
The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is highly effective against severe disease and in a clinical trial, there were no deaths among people who had the vaccine. Trials of the previously authorized two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines showed higher efficacy rates, but took place in different places and earlier in the pandemic, when fewer coronavirus variants were spreading.
Biden administration officials have been concerned the J&J vaccine would be perceived to be lower quality than the other vaccines, and US health officials have stressed repeatedly that people should take whichever vaccine is available if they’re eligible.
But during a Friday briefing, the White House claimed Duggan did not intend to say that Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are better than Johnson & Johnson’s.
“It’s important to clarify that that was not the mayor’s intent, and that was not the mayor’s comments,” White House senior adviser on Covid-19 Andy Slavitt said in response to a question from CNN’s Arlette Saenz.
Slavitt claimed that Duggan is “very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” and reiterated the White House position that Americans should take the first vaccine they have the opportunity to take.
Pressed again about Duggan’s remarks, Slavitt said: “The mayor’s office has indicated, after we talked to them, that there was a misunderstanding, that was not the intent of those remarks.”
Duggan issued a statement of his own Friday, expressing “full confidence” in the vaccine and announcing that his city will be opening a vaccination site offering Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“I have full confidence that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is both safe and effective. We are making plans now for Johnson & Johnson to be a key part of our expansion of vaccine centers and are looking forward to receiving Johnson & Johnson vaccines in the next allocation,” Duggan said in the statement.
In a subsequent statement Friday, Duggan again recharacterized his comments, pinning the justification on already having enough vaccines for the week.
“The only reason we chose to not accept the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson was that we had enough capacity with Moderna and Pfizer to handle the 29,000 first and second dose appointments scheduled for the coming week, which already put us very close to our capacity at our current locations,” he said, claiming that Detroit “always intended to distribute Johnson & Johnson once the demand warranted it.”
Duggan’s latest statement underscored the challenge of having enough vaccinators and vaccination sites as supply has begun to increase.
Earlier on Friday, John Roach, Duggan’s director of media relations, told CNN that when vaccine eligibility in Detroit expands to the point where demand at the city’s drive-thru max vaccination site exceeds the Moderna/Pfizer supply, the city will open a second site that will offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Detroiters currently eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine “can call today, make an appointment, and will receive a Moderna/Pfizer vaccine next week at the TCF center,” Roach said.
Duggan visited the White House last month and was a guest at the daily briefing to discuss his city’s recovery.
CNN’s Ganesh Setty contributed to this report.