Detroit mayor turns down J&J COVID-19 vaccine for now, but White House claims he was misunderstood

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Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan this week turned some 6,200 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine that recently saw emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration, appearing to cite concerns over the jab’s lower efficacy when compared to the coronavirus vaccines created by competitors Pfizer and Moderna.

But the White House on Friday called the mayor’s comments from earlier this week “misunderstanding,” adding that he is “very eager” for doses of the J&J jab. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks in Detroit. Mayor Duggan this week turned down 6,200 doses of the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine, with favoring shots from Pfizer and Moderna for now.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

During a news conference on Thursday, Duggan said the city had enough doses of the Pfizer and Moderna jabs — both of which are 95% effective in preventing a COVID-19 infection, compared to J&J’s at 66.9% — to meet the vaccine demand for the time being. 

“Johnson & Johnson is a very good vaccine. Moderna and Pfizer are the best,” the mayor said at the time. “And I am going to do everything I can to make sure that residents of the city of Detroit get the best.”


“The day may come in March or April when every single Moderna and Pfizer is committed, and we still have people who need a vaccine. And at that point, we will set up a Johnson & Johnson center. I don’t see that in the next couple of weeks,” he added. 

The mayor’s comments conflicted with advice from both state health officials in Michigan, as well as federal health officials, namely Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who has urged Americans to get any of the three vaccines currently available. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said earlier in the week that people who are offered the J&J vaccine should “take it because declining … could be the difference between life and death.” 

“All of the vaccines are safe and effective and I recommend that all vaccines be offered in all communities,” Khaldun said.


Duggan’s comments were addressed at a White House press briefing on Friday, with Andy Slavitt, the White House coronavirus special adviser, saying that the mayor was misunderstood when he said he was turning down the vaccines due to lower efficacy. He noted that the White House talked to the Detroit mayor’s office after he made the initial comments. 

Slavitt called the situation a “misunderstanding,” adding that the mayor is, in fact, “very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”

A spokesperson for Duggan’s office did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for additional comment on Friday. 

“As we’ve said many times, and happy to reiterated right now, we have three highly efficacious vaccines with a very good safety profile, each preventing hospitalizations and deaths. That’s point number one,” said Fauci during the briefing on Friday. 


“We don’t compare one to the other,” he said of the three vaccines. “The only way that you can effectively do that is by having head-to-head comparisons in a clinical trial, which was not done. And so, as Andy said, and I’ll reiterate, it’s a question if you go in and the vaccine is available to you, I would take the first available vaccine because the most important thing to do is to get vaccinated and not to try and figure out if one may be or may not be better than the other.”


Detroit this week expanded vaccinations to any resident who is a factory worker, no matter their age or where they work. Non-residents can also get a shot if they work in manufacturing in the city. As of Wednesday, an estimated 11% of Detroit residents age 16 and older had gotten at least one dose. The statewide rate was 19%. 

Separately, with the recent emergency use approval of the J&J jab, the U.S. should now have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate every adult American by the end of May, President Biden said earlier this week. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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