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White House says Detroit mayor's J&J vaccine comments a 'misunderstanding'

Mayor Duggan was "eager" to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a White House aide said.
Image: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan speaks at daily briefing at the white house
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House, in Feb. 12, 2021.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House Covid-19 task force said Friday that Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was misunderstood when he said the day before that he would turn down his city's allotment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because he did not believe it to be as effective as Moderna and Pfizer.

Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser for Covid-19 response, said that the mayor's office had been in touch with the White House and had indicated that Duggan's comments were a "misunderstanding."

"That was not actually the mayor's intent and that was not the mayor's comment. We've been in constant dialogue with Mayor Duggan who said, in fact, that was not what he said — or however it was reported," Slavitt told reporters Friday.

"In fact, he is very eager for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine."

Duggan, a Democrat who was first elected mayor in 2013, said at a press conference Thursday that the city was able to meet vaccine demands with just the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"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.

"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."

Duggan later clarified his comments Friday afternoon, writing in a statement that he had "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 added.

Asked about Duggan’s comments at the daily press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the White House had been in touch with Duggan and described his remarks as "a bit of a misunderstanding."

Duggan's comments come as the White House is working to counter hesitancy from some Americans to take the newly-approved, single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine out of fear that it is less effective or in some ways inferior to the other two vaccines.

Health officials have stressed that people should get the first vaccine available to them and that the vaccines were not compared to each other in a clinical trial.

"We've got to get away from this issue of comparing one with the other, except to say that we have a highly efficacious group of three vaccines," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"The most important thing to do is to get vaccinated and not to try and figure out which one may or may not be better than the other."

President Joe Biden announced earlier this week that, with the mass production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, there will be enough vaccines for every adult by the end of May, two months earlier than the administration had previously estimated.

Duggan has been a vocal supporter of Biden's Covid-19 relief bill, and he met with the president at the White House in February to discuss the response to the pandemic.

Duggan said he had raised the issue of getting more vaccines with the president during their meeting, and told reporters that "I just have complete confidence in this administration."

The White House Covid-19 task force also announced Friday that they would would open two new federally-supported mass vaccination sites at the Atlanta Falcon’s Stadium in Georgia and Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University in Ohio.