On Tuesday, U.S. health officials recommended that COVID-19 vaccine providers pause distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while an extremely rare side effect is investigated. The recommendation was made out of “an abundance of caution” — but some in right-wing media immediately seized on the announcement as a way to undermine public faith in vaccines.
More than 6.8 million Americans have already received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Just six recipients developed a rare blood clotting disorder shortly after being vaccinated, and the pause on its distribution is at least partly designed to provide information to health care providers about treating the potential side effect given that standard blood clot treatments may not work.
Despite the extremely small number of cases involved — and estimates that the pause is likely to last only days — some in conservative media are pointing to the move as evidence that vaccines are less effective and safe than they have proved to be. Chief among them is Fox host Tucker Carlson, who has been at the forefront of the network’s efforts to undermine the public vaccination campaign.
Carlson opened his show on Tuesday night by claiming that there “are reasons to believe” that the number of people who have suffered adverse side effects is “much higher” than the six disclosed cases. The host claimed, “It is possible, in fact, that this vaccine is more dangerous than they are indicating it is.”
Carlson later speculated that the COVID-19 vaccine “doesn’t work and they're simply not telling you that,” and that's why health officials are still recommending vaccinated people follow certain public health guidelines.
Other vocal proponents of COVID-19 misinformation in right-wing media — including those who have recently appeared on Carlson’s show — claimed that the move proved their concerns about the vaccines were warranted:
- Author Alex Berenson — one of the most prominent sources of COVID-19 misinformation throughout the pandemic and a frequent guest on Carlson’s show — used the announcement to suggest that the dangers of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being underreported. (Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations have not been paused.)
- Author Naomi Wolf, who also appeared on Carlson’s show earlier this year to criticize COVID-19 lockdowns, claimed that the pause confirmed the concerns she had previously raised about the vaccines and that the number of people suffering adverse effects is much higher than reported.
- The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens wrote: