By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Two different reactions after I got my Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine weeks ago. The immediate one was envy and jealousy as some people also wanted the one-shot J&J instead of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer. Soon, these same people were worried about me when federal officials paused the J&J vaccine after six women suffered from blood clots.
On April 13, my husband and I received warning texts and phone calls from friends and relatives after the announcement about the J&J vaccine. I appreciate their concern, but do I have to be concerned? Did they really understand what the issue was about? Or are they trying to scare me, however unintentional?
The first text I received about J&J pause on April 13 was at 7 a.m., after ‘extremely rare’ blood clots developed, according to the Federal and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officials. That’s a disturbing headline. I was calm when I read the text because I knew there was more to the story.
The next line was “six out of more than 6.8 million who received the vaccine developed blood clots.” If you continue reading, that line will tell you those were rare cases. Fewer than one in a million vaccinated were affected. But only one has died so far out of close to 7 million people inoculated. Those who were frightened by the headline, only read or heard one line, and didn’t bother to read the rest of the story. So readers are not digesting what the story is about, and don’t know the facts.
The Northwest Asian Weekly editor, who also got the J&J vaccine, joked, “See if I will die two weeks from now?” She had the vaccine in early April.
My husband and I were inoculated on March 13. How did we feel? We were delighted and relieved that we got the J&J, especially my husband. I was fine with any of the vaccines. By chance, my husband got his wish. It was a painless and fast process. From entering the pharmacy to getting the shot, it took less than 10 minutes. My husband felt nothing at all, even after weeks. For me, my head was a little heavy, right after injection. But not strong enough that I couldn’t work. That afternoon, I even covered the first protest against anti-Asian violence at the Hing Hay Park in Chinatown. For two days, I forgot to remove the bandage for my shot from my arm. It tells you how quickly we were able to go back to our normal life after inoculation.
Reading the gist of news
I have to confess that before I became a journalist, I did what many people do. Without realizing it, most people tend to sensationalize the news by sharing with others the scariest parts and the worst case scenarios, leaving out crucial facts or the full picture of the story. Because that’s what they see and read.
The news media wants to get your attention first and most people take the bait by focusing only on disasters—what happens and when, and skip the “who, how, and why.” Those are the key elements in the news. If you just read the headline, you not only miss the story, you have misread and then misled others afterwards.
Challenge reporters by asking questions
Even as a journalist, I don’t recommend you believe everything you read. The best way is to raise questions after reading a story. What was the story trying to convey? Is there any bias in it, meaning is it one-sided? Is the article a news story or an opinion piece? If it’s strictly a news story, the reporter shouldn’t include his views unless it helps to understand the complexity of the story. Is the commentary based on an informed opinion with facts and analysis?
Two years ago, I called a Seattle Times reporter for his bias in covering a City Council race. All the white male challengers’ photos were included in a front-page story, and the incumbent City Council member’s photo was inside, except the woman of color candidate. It turned out the reporter did provide all the candidates’ photos, but the layout person omitted Ami Nguyen, the woman of color and Asian American. It wasn’t intentional. I was pleased with the Times’ prompt response. It published a correction on page two afterwards. Later, Nguyen was even featured in a front-page story on another topic.
When you see unbalanced news coverage, call the reporter. Sometimes, he might not even be aware of the layout because he may have only read the online version and not the print version, a copy editor usually writes the headlines, and other staff members do the graphics and layout.
Had I not made the call, I would not know the truth.
If you take J&J vaccine
I have heard that some highly-educated people, even government officials, who have taken the J&J vaccine, are worried sick. That’s irrational. If you are male, you shouldn’t be. Same with older women like me. The J&J vaccine risk affects only younger women from age 18 to 40s. In any vaccine you get, you should know there is a risk involved. The risk is small though.
What the CDC does, is to minimize risk. So it recommended a pause to understand more about the J&J vaccine. It also says that not taking a vaccine will pose more risks in getting COVID.
Avoiding vaccination would be a big mistake. Those people who have COVID suffer far more and even those who have recovered, experience many side effects. Their lungs get destroyed, their brains become foggy, they experience shortness of breath, their muscles ache, and much more. Not taking the vaccine will pose more risk to yourself and loved ones, as COVID can spread without mercy.
If I had to do it again, J&J would still be my choice. No second thoughts.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.