On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution.” The announcement came after reports of six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot following the administration of the drugmaker’s vaccine, which has been given to nearly 7 million people. Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel explains what you need to know if you’ve already received it.
JANET WOODCOCK: This morning, the FDA and CDC announced that, out of an abundance of caution, we’re recommending a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to reports of six cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot following vaccine administration.
KAVITA PATEL: A pause is different from a withdrawal or a warning or any sort of change to the actual label of the vaccine. But as a recommendation, it’s highly likely that the United States will not be administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until we have more clarity from the FDA and the CDC. Pauses in general last days. They’re not weeks, they’re not months.
So they found that out of approximately 7 million doses administered, there were six cases, all female, with one fatality, one death, of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which is a very severe type of blood clot that is formed in one of the veins inside the brain. And just to put it mildly, this looks a lot like a stroke. It can be a cause of a stroke and other such things. But they’re trying to explore whether these specific types of blood clots, especially in the brain and also some reports of clots in the abdomen, can be linked to the vaccine itself.
Right now there is no scientific data to show there is a linkage. But because of these six cases, as well as I think data from Europe around the AstraZeneca vaccine, it forced the FDA to recommend a pause. So we do know all six were women, all six were young, and all six were found in the days following the vaccination. So anywhere from six days to 13 days they presented with their symptoms. So if you received the vaccine three weeks or greater, very likely that you have nothing to worry about. If you’re in the time window, less than three weeks,
I would say that you should talk to your doctor if you have any concerning symptoms. So the symptoms to look out for can be anything from swelling in parts of your body and pain in some parts of your body, such as your abdomen, your stomach, leg pain, stomach pain, severe headaches, problems with speech or problems with movement, things that can mimic a stroke. If you’re having shortness of breath or chest pain, that can also be a clue.
We see a greater incidence of clots associated with other things such as smoking and oral contraceptives and cancer at much higher rates. So in terms of just sheer statistics and probability, if you have had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, unless you have a history of blood clotting or issues with your platelet counts or other problems in general with blood clotting, you are not at risk, and you should not worry.
But again, I think that if people have anxiety and just want to talk through what they’re worried about, they should reach out to a health professional. But 99.9999% of people have zero problems to speak of with the exception of some mild side effects at the time of injection, local skin reactions. Some people have reported nausea and dizziness and just some other reactions that we would expect to see, but nothing to this degree.
Johnson & Johnson is using an inactivated human adenovirus, basically think of it as a dummy vehicle to get your body to think that it’s being exposed to coronavirus. It’s viral technology that’s been used in other vaccines, like Ebola, so we have a history of some experience with it, but nothing to the degree we have today. That’s different than Pfizer and Moderna, which are messenger RNA vaccines, which deliver a message to your cells to produce that spike protein that’s like the coronavirus spike protein. But it’s different than the way Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use a dummy virus to expose your body to a dummy version of the coronavirus spike protein.
So different technologies. It’s truly apples and oranges to compare. It’s easy to let your brain think that that means that the adenovirus vaccines are bad. That should not be the conclusion. These are just patterns of association right now but it’s very rare to see a vaccine cause these events. But that’s exactly what the FDA and the CDC are going to explore, and it’s possible an outcome would likely be to resume to use the vaccine but to put a warning for people with a certain history or a certain type of patient that might need a warning about whether to get the vaccine or not.